Strong Light

© Photo | TRUMPF

Users expect laser cutting machines to be able to handle two and three-dimensional components in an increasingly wide array of metals. That poses a challenge for machine manufacturers.

There is virtually no other tool that can cut metal as cleanly and accurately as a laser. So it comes as little surprise to learn that cutting is one of the most popular applications in the field of laser material processing. Today’s industrial users still primarily use lasers for cutting, welding and engraving tasks, and the technology has steadily become more sophisticated over the years.

The range of cutting methods has also increased, and modern laser cutting systems now offer everything from laser micro-cutting of delicate, wafer-thin medical components to large-scale 3D laser cutting of pipes and hot-stamped automotive parts.

Industry doesn’t want highly specialized machines, but rather systems that can cope with a wide range of sheet thicknesses and materials while maintaining high quality standards

Lasercutting_in_the_automotive_industry

Whether for two- or three-dimensional components, virtually no other tool can cut metal better than a laser. (Photo: TRUMPF)

Light is a tool that can successfully tackle an extraordinary range of materials, from mild and stainless steel to highly reflective metals such as aluminum, copper, brass and titanium. Modern laser cutting systems can even cut through stainless steel sheets up to 50 millimeters thick. Yet users are constantly seeking even more sophisticated systems which are faster, more precise, more flexible and more energy-efficient – and at the same time easy to use, reliable and as compact as possible.

The challenge for machine manufacturers is to meet all these requirements with machines that still offer tremendous versatility. That’s because industry doesn’t want highly specialized machines, but rather systems that can cope with a wide range of sheet thicknesses and materials while maintaining high quality standards and making the most efficient use of raw materials.

Two beam sources

When it comes to choosing the right system, the first task is to choose the best beam source. For a long time CO2 lasers were regarded as an almost unquestioned choice for cutting applications. In recent years, however, solid-state lasers have increasingly gained ground in the 2D and 3D cutting stakes. Both technologies have their advantages, and the best choice depends entirely on the specific application and cutting method.

For example, CO2 lasers can achieve higher-quality results in 2D fusion cutting of thick stainless steel sheets – and for thicknesses in excess of 10 millimeters they also enable higher cutting feed rates. This also applies to 3D components made from aluminum.

Yet users are constantly seeking even more sophisticated systems which are faster, more precise, more flexible and more energy-efficient.

On the other hand, solid-state laser systems have the edge in applications that involve thin to medium-thick sheets, where they achieve very high feed rates. Solid-state systems also offer superb energy efficiency and low maintenance in these applications, and they are particularly suitable for cutting non-ferrous metals such as copper and brass. That’s because the wavelength of the light from solid-state lasers is only about a tenth of the wavelength of light from a CO2 laser. Non-ferrous metals can absorb this radiation much better, resulting in a better, more energy-efficient cutting process.

Choosing a machine concept

Once you have chosen the best laser beam source, the next step is to choose the right type of machine. Different machine concepts are required depending on whether the laser will be cutting three-dimensional components or sheets and panels.

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A fast 3D laser cutting system: The ObserverLine function reliably detects slugs, increasing process reliability. (Photo: TRUMPF)

These applications involve very different machine footprints and kinematic degrees of freedom when it comes to the motion of the cutting system. 2D cutting systems are normally Cartesian three-axis machines, while 3D cutting systems add an additional two rotary axes. That makes it possible to guide the laser beam orthogonally onto the surface when processing three-dimensional objects.

The two types of machine also differ in terms of the range of applications they can handle. 2D laser cutting systems can tackle a broad spectrum ranging from thin to thick sheets, while systems for 3D applications are primarily designed for thin sheets between 0.8 and 2.5 millimeters thick.


 

Solutions from Trumpf

TruLaser Cell 8030


The TruLaser Cell 8030 is a great choice for 3D laser processing in highly-productive industrial environments. It offers a compact footprint and is easily accessible from all sides.

TruLaser Cell 7000


The TruLaser Cell 7000 range of laser systems boasts exceptional flexibility. These machines can handle both two and three-dimensional components.

TruLaser 5030 fiber


The new generation of TruLaser 5030 fiber machines for 2D laser cutting offer new functions and eight kilowatts of laser power, making them even more productive, flexible and reliable.

TruLaser 5000


Engineers have also made major improvements to CO2 laser cutting systems. The new TruFlow lasers used in the TruLaser 5000 range of machines consume some 30 percent less electricity than previous models.

(All photos: TRUMPF)

The specialist laser company TRUMPF is constantly striving to optimize its laser cutting systems to meet the full range of industry requirements. For 2D cutting, TRUMPF offers a number of all-in-one machines for both CO2 and solid-state cutting systems. Its BrightLine fiber technology has led to a major breakthrough in processing sheet metal with solid-state lasers, enabling machines to handle a very wide range of sheet thicknesses and types of metal – from mild and stainless steel to aluminum.

Despite all the progress that has been made in the field of laser cutting, there is still plenty of scope for further innovation.

Thanks to this new technology, users can now also use solid-state lasers to cut smaller, more delicate holes which previously had to be mechanically drilled. The new generation of TruLaser 5030 fiber machines takes advantage of BrightLine fiber technology to provide users with enhanced performance, flexibility and productivity.

TRUMPF has also made innovative improvements to its CO2 laser systems: the new TruFlow laser used in the TruLaser 5000 range of machines consumes around 30 percent less energy than before.

Smart_collision_prevention_reduces_the_risk_of_collision_during_laser_cutting

In 2D laser cutting, the new Smart Collision Prevention function minimizes the risk of collisions during cutting. (Photo: TRUMPF)

For 3D cutting applications which prioritize productivity and costs per part, the new TruLaser Cell 8030 is the way to go. It is primarily intended for laser cutting hot-stamped 3D parts in highly productive industrial environments. 3D laser processing may once have been the exclusive domain of prototype building, but the technology has now established itself among automakers as a tried-and-tested method for hot-formed automotive body parts. In situations where flexibility is paramount – for example in job shops – the TruLaser Cell 7000 range of machines is a better choice. TRUMPF 3D solid-state lasers also offer the advantage of being able to handle laser deposition welding and heat conduction welding tasks.

Despite all the progress that has been made in the field of laser cutting, there is still plenty of scope for further innovation. Users can therefore look forward to more improvements in both beam sources and machine technology in the future.


Authors:

Dr. Tim Hesse (Tim.Hesse@de.TRUMPF.com) heads up fundamental research for 2D laser cutting and Ralf Kohllöffel (Ralf.Kohlloeffel@de.TRUMPF.com) is a product manager for 3D laser machines.

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