Laser processing equipment uses high-powered lasers to cut, trim, perforate, weld, join, or mark a variety of materials in plate or sheet form. They are used to process metals, plastics, semiconductor wafers, electronic materials, human tissue, and medical devices. Unlike plasma cutting systems, which are not suitable for cutting non-conductive materials, laser processing equipment are very effective in processing plastic, wood, textiles and other dielectric or insulating materials. Some laser processing equipment provides versatility beyond just two dimensional (2D) devices such as XY or gantry cutting tables. For example, 3D laser processing equipment welds, cuts, drills, machines, surface treats and/or marks complex three-dimensional parts. Laser processing equipment that provide 5-axis machining are also available. Related equipment operations for laser processing equipment includes laser drilling and perforating, laser forming and cladding, laser heat treatment, laser marking and scribing, laser soldering and brazing, laser welding, micromachining and trimming, tube processing, web slitting, and continuous feeding.
Laser processing equipment consist of a laser or lasing source, power supply, laser optics or beam delivery components, and related components or subsystems such as workpiece sensors or monitors; pointing diodes or beam injectors; equipment enclosures; XY, gantry, or rotary tables; shuttle pallets; and other part handlers or manipulators. In a laser beam delivery subsystem, the final component is a reflective or focusing laser head, a laser galvanometer scanner, or a fiber optic beam guide or cable. In flying optics systems, beam guidance modules are common. Often, these modules include gantry robots, robotic arms, or other manipulators that mechanically guide or direct the laser beam relative to the workpiece or part. Typically, a laser head or fiber optic cable is mounted on the beam guidance module. Additional laser optics or optical components for laser processing equipment include: beam benders or mirror blocks, beam collimators, beam expanders, beam pipes or tubes, reflection isolators, beam shutters or dumps, beam splitters, beam switchers or galvo mirrors, circular polarizers or phase retarders, and scan lenses. Lens focusing, reflective focusing, resonator, and other specialty laser optics are also available.
Selecting laser processing equipment requires an analysis of speed, capacity, and laser specifications. Speed and capacity parameters include cutting or traverse speed, thickness capacity, X-axis travel or length capacity, Y-axis travel or width capacity, and Z-axis travel or vertical travel. Laser specifications include maximum laser output power and laser type. Most laser cutting and welding machines use carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers; neodymium-doped, yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) lasers; or diode lasers. Pulsed or Q-switched lasers are also available. Q-switches produce the effect of a shutter moving rapidly in and out of the beam to “spoil” the resonator’s normal Q, keeping it low to prevent lasing action until a high level of energy is stored. When normal Q is restored, a large pulse of power is produced by laser cutting machines and laser welding machines.
In terms of features, a lot of laser processing equipment include a CNC controller that runs automatically, or with little or no operator intervention. These machines change or adjust travel position, speed, laser power, air or gas flow, beam delivery factors and other parameters in a pre-programmed manner. Laser processing equipment that can be controlled or programmed through a personal computer (PC) interface are also available. Manual workstations require an operator. Semi-automatic laser equipment must be loaded and setup by trained personnel.
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