Illustrated Guide to Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is becoming more prevalent in modern manufacturing. However, it is still an art form and requires a certain degree of finesse.

There are still many unknown variables encountered when cutting through or engraving exotic and even some common materials.

Illustrated Guide To Carbon DioxideOne of the great advantages of lasers is that they impart practically no mechanical force on their targets. Specifically, CO2 lasers cut their target with a focused beam of infra-red radiation, burning and melting to remove the media. Therefore, when a part is difficult to fixture or machine by standard practices (cutting or forming), the use of a laser might be the solution.

The engineers at Prime Products have extensive experience working with various laser types and a variety of materials, including acrylics, polycarbonates, and various rubbers. Even when a material is expected, theoretically, to be easily cut by a laser, it might not work so well in practice — the laser could leave regions of discoloration or extensive over-burns.

When these types of conditions are encountered, our expertise allows us to maximize the capabilities of our laser systems or to suggest alternative methods, such as CNC machining, die or water jet cutting.

Material Types

When a design team details the manufacturing parameters for your project, they must also determine an ideal material choice. This choice should take into consideration (1) how the product will be used for its purpose, and (2) how the product will be manufactured.

Some materials, though ideal for the final product’s purpose, might be too difficult to manufacture into that product. The following are some general examples of materials that are commonly referred to laser machining shops for processing:

  • Acrylics: These materials cut very well with CO2 lasers. Depending on the exact blend, they might require small degrees of cleaning post cutting.
  • Polycarbonates: More difficult to cut cleanly and additional steps are required to minimize discoloration (especially with thicker materials). However, with the proper precautions (i.e. liners) and post cleaning procedures, this material can be used if esthetics is not a key qualification.
  • Silicones and Rubber: A slight layer of burnt or melted material remains after these are laser cut.

Various post cleaning processes are used to minimize the final impact, such as blowing clean with air, wiping or ultrasonic cleaning.

Every material reacts differently to the cutting forces of a CO2 laser. For example, an acrylic will react differently than a polycarbonate; even one recipe of polycarbonate will react differently than another recipe.

It is experience and understanding which gives Prime Products the advantage when it comes to predicting how a material — either one previously encountered or one in a similar material family — will cut in certain environments.

Our engineers have combined their knowledge into a resource titled the Illustrated Guide to Laser Cutting. This resource will help our customers make better, more well-informed decisions when determining materials and processes for their parts.

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