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The Hows and Whys of Laser Cutting Technology

The Hows and Whys of Laser Cutting Technology

Although much of the population views robotics and machine learning as the primary pathway to the future, innovations, and discoveries are still being made in the field of classical Newtonian physics. These innovations are creating new ways to solve old problems; take the laser for example. In our current day and age lasers are used for everything from scanning bar codes when you’re checking out at a super-market to performing surgeries on eyeballs, it is safe to say that the invention of the laser was a pivotal moment in technological innovation. In this blog, we will discuss the science behind how lasers work as well as the significance and importance of laser cutting technology.

The word laser is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Simulated Emission of Radiation”, this term was first coined in the 1960s when Ted Maiman (scientist and engineer) created the first ever laser. Maiman’s laser used a cylindrical ruby which he surrounded by a flashtube (a lightbulb which could wrap around the ruby). By repeatedly flashing the flashtube on and off (a process called pumping) the electrons experience a response called stimulated emission. Next, Maiman placed a mirror on one end of the ruby cylinder and a partial mirror on the other end. The full mirror allowed the light rays to align parallel to one another and the partial mirror allowed the rays of light to escape in the shape of a beam.

Most modern lasers use special lenses to amplify light, to see this effect on your own you can take apart a basic laser pointer and place the lens of it over a camera lens, you will notice that the light is being amplified. The scope of the camera will be greatly magnified. This is how laser cutters work.

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You may have noticed that if you magnify sunlight it creates a beam of energy so strong that it can ignite flammable objects. Laser cutters apply this same concept but instead of using sunlight laser cutters focus thousands of kilowatts of energy into a single point creating a highly effective tool for cutting through metal. Due to the laser cutter’s small kerf width, laser cutters can produce highly accurate cuts as well as designs. This technology is the most efficient way to accurately carve complex patterns into metal plates.

Laser cutting is the most effective way to produce small metal components especially if they have intricate designs. Because it is cost effective it is a mandatory tool for component manufacturers and has completely changed the industry in this field. A typical laser cutter has a spot size of around 60 microns. To give you an idea of how small that is, it would take over 25,000 microns to make up the size of 1 inch. This is why laser cutters are able to cut lines that are just a fraction of an inch in thickness.

Although it’s easy to be distracted by Hollywood’s portrayal of a dystopic future run by mad scientists and artificial intelligence it is important to not overlook some of the more simple uses of engineering. Laser technology is less than 60 years old but the applications of it have changed the way billions of people around the world live. Lasers are used to read discs, perform eye surgery, cut through steel, aim firearms and in some cases just play with cats. Since they provide so many uses and benefits to our society the field of laser technology has grown tremendously and even more users are probably yet to be discovered.

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