What are the Different Types of Laser Cutting Systems?

Jillian Peterson

In industrial laser machining there are many different types of laser cutting systems for different types of materials. Laser cutting is preferred over mechanical cutting for thick flat sheet material or when precision machined parts are needed. While lasers used in welding such as neodymium (Nd) lasers can be used in laser cutting, the most common laser type is the carbon dioxide (CO2) laser. Most industrial laser cutting machines have a material table and a laser head, and these parts are put together in three basic machine configurations: moving material, flying optics, and hybrid systems.

A laser cutter is used to cut a sheet of metal.
A laser cutter is used to cut a sheet of metal.

There are several different types of lasers typically used in industrial cutting systems: CO2 or Nd lasers being the most common. Generally, the Nd lasers are used for applications such as boring holes or engraving metal, as well as for welding. CO2 lasers are generally used for laser cutting because the laser is more powerful and capable of cutting dense materials.

Lasers, especially burning laser, can cause blindness if pointed at the eyes.
Lasers, especially burning laser, can cause blindness if pointed at the eyes.

The carbon dioxide laser used in laser cutting systems is so named because the amplifying chamber where the laser is produced is filled with carbon dioxide gas. Industrial CO2 laser cutting machines usually produce a laser that is a fraction of a millimeter thick and can cut different thickness of material depending on the machine configuration. Among industrial CO2 laser cutting machines, there are three configurations.

The first machine configuration used in laser cutting systems is called moving material. This configuration involves a material table that moves while the laser head is held at a fixed point. Moving material laser cutting machines are most commonly used for precision cutting of thick flat sheet material. These types of laser cutting systems are also fitted with specialty accessories that remove melted material.

Flying optics laser systems are configured opposite of moving material systems in that the material is fixed while the laser or lasers move over it on two axes. These types of laser cutting machines are often more expensive because they may have more than one laser head, which requires more electrical power. Often, flying optics systems require careful calibration and a trained professional to run.

The third most common configuration in laser cutting systems is known as the hybrid configuration, which combines the previous two. Generally, both the laser beam and the material can move. Hybrid cutting systems are a popular technology of the laser cutting industry because they can be more efficient in power use and cutting.

Laser resurfacing may be performed to remove scars or hair.
Laser resurfacing may be performed to remove scars or hair.

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Discussion Comments

Nepal2016

@KLR650 - The one we have is a straight cutting machine. It's a Co2 laser where the head and the metal being cut can both move, so I guess they call that a hybrid. It was the most expensive one we looked at, because it was the most complicated. But it does all kinds of cool things to the steel.

The one we're looking at for a second machine would be the Nd type that can weld really well and also do some cutting. Since we're already well set up with cutting capability, we figured we will get one to so specialized welding and then have it as a backup cutter for smaller jobs.

KLR650

@Nepal2016 - What kind of laser did you guys get? Is it strictly for cutting, or does it weld too? We have one in my shop, but it's mostly a welder that we use for some light cutting jobs once in a while.

You're right though, it speeds things up quite a bit and lets you do jobs you couldn't have done without it.

Nepal2016

Technology is an amazing thing. I work in a steel fabrication shop and we got a laser cutter a few years ago, and it changed everything for our business.

The time it takes to fabricate complex designs and cut through thick steel parts has been slashed at least in half. Not only can we do more work, we can also do more precise and profitable work.

It must have been a huge investment for the owners, but it has been paying off really well. If we get any busier it looks like we may get another one.

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