• English

Fiber laser cutting drive power revolution

DATE:2016-10-27READ:


For more than 30 years, the power and performance of carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers has appeared to be at an extreme level, with consumers purchasing CO2 laser power mostly in the 4-5 kW range (and occasionally 6 kW). It took about 15 years to make 3kW CO2 laser sales become common, and then spent five years to make 4kW products become the mainstream choice for end users. In fact, higher power CO2 lasers (6kW and above) have been available for many years, dating back to the 1990s. Although sales of high-power CO2 lasers have increased slightly in the 21st century, they have never been able to match sales of products that are close to 4-5kW.

For more than 30 years, the power and performance of carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers has appeared to be at an extreme level, with consumers purchasing CO2 laser power mostly in the 4-5 kW range (and occasionally 6 kW). It took about 15 years to make 3kW CO2 laser sales become common, and then spent five years to make 4kW products become the mainstream choice for end users. In fact, higher power CO2 lasers (6kW and above) have been available for many years, dating back to the 1990s. Although sales of high-power CO2 lasers have increased slightly in the 21st century, they have never been able to match sales of products that are close to 4-5kW.
First of all, with the technology of chopper, electronically controlled shutter, polarization element, beam collimation and better control elements, CO2 laser technology has been greatly improved in the process of development and evolution. As these developments have greatly improved the performance of CO2 lasers, giving the product better usability. Before, industry demand is not to emphasize today's multi-style, small batch trend-based, until 2000, this strategy has changed. However, the industry is still undergoing a variety of changes, and manufacturing productivity is also improving. As the CO2 laser has been improved, but also driven the demand for products and sales. But in any case, CO2 lasers are still relatively expensive, and require a lot of power and maintenance needs.

The mid-90s, laser technology has gradually entered a strong growth phase, until 2000, laser technology has surpassed the stamping technology has become the preferred processing of the mainstream manufacturing "weapon." Therefore, the manufacturing strategy is rapidly changing, streamlining as a keyword, and "variety, small batch" and then become a new efficient manufacturing standards. This standard requires "just-in-time production", and lasers are ideal because the machining technique reduces or eliminates set-up times during workpiece transformation.

4-5kW power laser for 99% of the cutting workpiece is very suitable choice. So, why 6 kW power or more CO2 lasers do not dominate the market? It is difficult to get a clear answer, but it is certain that multiple factors contributed to this phenomenon. We know that these high-power machines use nitrogen cutting when the processing speed is higher than low-power lasers. The higher power point density enables faster vaporization of the material, which in turn results in a faster movement of the machining head and speeds up the cutting process. The direct result is faster cutting of parts with nitrogen, which improves overall productivity and eliminates the secondary treatment of the oxidizing layer from downstream painting or welding operations.





Oxidation is a common by-product of the use of oxygen (O2) as an auxiliary gas. To help illustrate the advantages of using a 6kW CO2 laser and a 4kW CO2 laser using nitrogen as the auxiliary gas to cut 1/4 inch mild steel, a 4kW laser cuts about 60-80 parts per minute of material Inch, while the 6kW lasers have a material removal rate of 110-120 inches per minute. In addition to faster processing speed, high-power CO2 lasers can also increase the processing thickness of the material, giving the workshop processing thick stainless steel, low carbon steel and aluminum better ability. In view of this, it seems that the technology is moving in a more efficient and more productive evolution of a metamorphosis of a logical step.

However, it also reflects the fact that CO2 lasers seem to have reached the well-known upper limit. With the increase in CO2 laser power, the machine's operating costs, the number of parts, power consumption and overall maintenance costs have also increased. There is a trade-off between capital investment and increased operating costs, Vs. Production efficiency and increased capacity, which in turn leads the purchaser to return to the CO2 lasers with a 4-5 kW power range.

Fiber laser technology usher in a breakthrough
After 2000, sales of the laser triumph, and a long time in the market share beyond the punch. In 2005, fiber-optic technology became a fashionable term for laser cutting, although fiber laser equipment in the United States part of the market share of sales, but early sales and more concentrated in the European manufacturing market. In fact, major laser Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have not introduced fiber laser technology into their production lines. From 2005 to 2010, fiber laser technology and equipment sales in the United States is very small, selling products, the maximum power of about 2kW. Until 2010 EuroBLECH in Hannover, Germany, and Fabtech in 2011, several large OEMs demonstrated their newly developed fiber laser technology , The fiber laser in the United States ushered in its debut of the event.
QQ browser screenshots not named
Figure 1: Amada USA LCG AJ fiber laser cutting machine can provide 6kW power products.

Even so, in 2011, fiber lasers accounted for only about 5-10% of all lasers sold for cutting applications. However, some manufacturers have begun to introduce 4kW power products. At the Fabtech show in Atlanta in 2014, fiber lasers were the only laser cutting equipment exhibited at the show, and the power of the exhibits ranged from 2 to 12 kW (Figure 1). At the same time, sales of fiber lasers have risen sharply compared to CO2 lasers, and sales of fiber lasers have surpassed CO2 for the first time in 2015.

From 2005 to 2010, sales of fiber lasers are still moderate. There may be several reasons, but the most need to enhance the familiarity and comfort level. During this period, to provide this option is very small OEM manufacturers, and end-users are not sure whether the fiber laser technology will be really accepted or just flash in the pan. With more and more OEM manufacturers began to launch fiber laser equipment, this technology is really ushered in the orthodox.

A new era of fiber laser

With the gradual development of fiber lasers to today's scale, its advantages are self-evident. When first introduced, one of the main selling points of the product is the low operating costs realized compared to CO2 lasers. Fiber lasers operate at a fraction of the cost of CO2 lasers and are less costly than alternative cutting methods, primarily because fiber lasers require no maintenance costs. But more importantly, the design simplicity means that the increase in power does not significantly increase the consumables, power loss or maintenance costs.

Figure 2: 6kW LCG AJ fiber laser uses nitrogen to process 1/4-inch low-carbon steel at 200 IPM while the 6-kW CO2 laser cuts 110-120 inches of material per minute.

In fact, the limiting factor for improving power is mainly around the ability to improve laser diodes and modules while maintaining high quality laser beams. In doing so, the power is increased, enabling quicker processing of thicker materials. Today, 6kW fiber lasers use nitrogen to process 1/4-inch low carbon steel at 200 IPM. If you remember, 6kW CO2 laser per minute material cutting rate of only 110-120 inches.
Therefore, we can assume that the power of fiber lasers is strongly driven by the market. Fiber lasers are also preferred over other types of cutting methods such as plasma cutting and water jetting because fiber lasers are effective in cutting thick plates, and their wavelengths are also beneficial for cutting copper and other unique materials (Fig. 3).
QQ browser screenshots not named
Figure 3: Fiber lasers can effectively cut copper and other unique materials.

Today, fiber laser cutting head is configured with only a small number of optical components, plus a cutting nozzle. Fiber lasers typically run at a cost of between $ 1 and $ 1 per hour, depending on the processing elements included in those costs and how they are calculated. With the first-generation fiber lasers to enhance the comprehensive capacity, making the fiber laser almost all of the current cutting process is an attractive alternative solution.

Consider the elements

Of course, there are some additional points to note that high-power fiber lasers are struggling to maintain the balance in the manufacturing process. Many people may think that these are "positive" level, but they still need to get more planning. A 6kW fiber laser is significantly faster than the 4kW and 2kW fiber lasers, and at a faster rate than any CO2 laser series. If a plasma cutting and water cutting unit is integrated into the production line, the machine will be twice or even three times as productive as the previous process, in the same footprint or less.

This ability to overload production has forced manufacturers to reconsider downstream processing such as material handling and bending operations. A balanced production process management system can be easily changed by a high-performance machine, which often means that the next capital investment may need to focus on the bending process, such as automatic tool change bending machines and robotics and other fields. So what about materials handling? These are issues that have not been carefully considered before, but there is no doubt that high-power fiber lasers will increase the overall production capacity of the production line.

Figure 4: An example of a fiber laser processing a thick plate.

To sum up, high-power fiber lasers have been through the continuous development and evolution of the rapid find its position in the manufacturing industry. They are as easy to operate as low-power products. Any additional capital investment in fiber lasers can be offset by significantly higher throughput and lower operating costs than CO2 lasers in the same power range. In addition, the ability of fiber lasers to process thick slabs (Fig. 4) makes them an ideal alternative to processes such as plasma cutting and water cutting. The industry has gradually opened the veil of fiber laser technology in this layer, and shows the fiber laser is used for blanking processing of a viable solution that it has become the capture of small quantities of orders and high productivity between the increasingly space Efficient (blanking) solutions for reduced problems. Today's fiber lasers offer all these advantages to manufacturers with high power, higher throughput, lower cost, greater flexibility and higher margins.