Laser cutting is a CNC process suitable for both prototyping and manufacturing, especially tasks that call for precise cuts or etching. Given the highly computerized nature of laser cutting, many manufacturers elect to outsource their work to third parties. Typically, outsourcing is as simple as sending design files electronically. Before they commit to production runs, though, customers should understand how the process works. Here are four things you'll want to know about laser cutting.
Vector and Raster
Unlike many CNC systems, a laser cutter can handle input from both vector and raster files. Rather than just cutting along predefined lines based on the design files, most cutters can also hover over the materials and perform etching operations. If you want to add an image or imprint to a piece, using a laser is likely to be an appealing option. The most skilled operators are even able to alter the color of the metal somewhat using the laser.
You can use a laser cutter with virtually any material that isn't volatile under intense heat or light. Metal is the most popular material for this process, and wood and plastic represent the second tier. Cardstock is appropriate for some projects, but flammability is a concern that requires extensive testing on a per-project basis.
Regardless of the types of materials involved in a project, it's always wise to do some test runs and proofs. This will give you a sense of how intense certain effects are. For example, some metals may discolor slightly if you hit them hard with the laser. Consequently, the technicians may have to modify some of the passes to reduce the intensity and eliminate distortion.
Also, with woods, you'll need to see how intense the burn is when you etch or engrave. Like with metals, operators can usually make some adjustments to account for aesthetic issues before finalizing a production run.
Software for Design
Most folks contracting out laser cutting work will want to do the design work in-house. Nearly all 2-D vector graphics and 3-D graphics programs are suitable for this purpose. However, you'll want to verify that your preferred program can export files to the laser cutting company's default CAD format.
Within the industry, kerf refers to the widest point of the laser. Every laser has a focal point, and it's smaller than the kerf. The kerf represents the width of the materials that will be destroyed around the focal point in cutting, resulting in limited waste.
For more information, reach out to a professional who provides laser cutting services.