Cost is No Longer a Show Stopper for Fiber Laser Cutting

Cost is No Longer a Show Stopper for Fiber Laser Cutting 

There is significant competition in the market between different cutting technologies, whether they are intended for sheet metal, tubes or profiles. There are those that use methods of mechanical cutting by abrasion and others that prefer thermal methods.   

However, with recent breakthroughs in technology and with cost per diode dropping exponentially, fiber laser cutting is replacing high-definition plasma, CO2 laser, and other thermal cutting techniques for many applications.   Fiber Laser was once considered too expensive even though it could do the job best.  Now that it is more economical, the decision criteria should be focused on accuracy, thickness, geometry and material requirements.  Here are some cutting technologies that offer value based on these requirements. 

Water Jet 

This is a valuable technology for all those materials that might be affected by heat when performing cold cutting, such as plastics, coatings, or cement panels. To increase the power of the cut, an abrasive material may be used that is suitable for working with steel measuring greater than 300 mm. It can be very useful in this manner for hard materials such as ceramics, stone or glass. 


Although laser has gained popularity over punching machines for certain types of cuts, there is still a place for punch due to the fact that the cost of the machine is much lower, as well as its speed and its ability to perform form tool and tapping operations that are not possible with laser technology. 


This technology is the most suitable for carbon steel of greater thicknesses (75mm). However, it is not effective for stainless steel and aluminum. It offers a high degree of portability, since it does not require a special electrical connection, and initial investment is low. 


High-definition plasma is close to laser in quality for greater thicknesses.  Traditionally, it has enjoyed a lower purchase cost that offsets the expensive operational costs versus the fiber laser which has traditionally had a much higher purchase cost and very low operational costs.  Unlike fiber laser, plasma often requires post-cut machining/grinding to clean up the part and that contributes to a higher operational cost.   Now that fiber laser purchase prices are dropping, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for Fiber Laser can be less than Plasma.  Even so, Plasma is the most suitable from 5mm, and is practically unbeatable from 30mm, where the laser is not able to reach, with the capacity to reach up to 90mm in thickness in carbon steel, and 160mm in stainless steel. Without a doubt, it is a good option for bevel cutting. It can be used with ferrous and non-ferrous, as well as oxidized, painted, or grid materials.   

CO2 Laser 

Generally speaking, the laser offers a more precise cutting capability. This is especially the case with lesser thicknesses and when machining small holes. CO2 is suitable for thicknesses between 5mm and 30mm.  It does have a lot of consumables and energy that makes its operational cost higher than fiber laser.  

Fiber Laser 

Fiber laser technology is quickly gaining popularity due to its speed and quality that rivals traditional CO2 laser cutting. It is also more cost-effective and energy-efficient, resulting in lower investment, maintenance, and operation costs. As the price of fiber laser machines continues to decrease, it becomes an increasingly attractive option compared to plasma & certainly CO2 laser cutting.  Additionally, fiber laser technology also performs better with reflective materials such as copper and brass. In summary, fiber laser technology is emerging as a top choice for manufacturers due to its performance, cost-effectiveness (TCO), and ecological benefits. 

While there may be instances where only one specific cutting technology is suitable for a particular part, fiber laser technology is now more accessible and applicable to a wider range of applications due to its decreasing cost. When considering fiber laser technology, cost is no longer the major factor why manufacturers object. Instead, factors such as the material, thickness, desired quality, and internal hole diameters should be taken into account when deciding on the right cutting solution. It is important to analyze the physical and geometric properties of the part to determine the most suitable machine for its production.  Fiber laser is proving to be the cutting solution of choice for the stricter cutting requirements in today’s products.

Primer on the Three Types of Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is a process that uses a high-power laser beam to cut materials. The laser beam is directed through optics and computer numerical control (CNC) to follow a specific path. The laser beam can burn, melt, vaporize or blow away material to create a high-quality finished edge. 

The laser beam is generated by stimulating lasing materials with electrical discharges or lamps. The lasing material is amplified by reflecting internally until it escapes as a stream of coherent light. This light is focused at the work area by mirrors or fiber optics. 

A laser beam can be very narrow, typically less than 0.0125 inches (0.32 mm) in diameter. However, kerf widths as small as 0.004 inches (0.10mm) are possible depending on the material thickness. 

If the laser cutting process needs to start somewhere other than the edge of the material, a piercing process is used. A high-power pulsed laser makes a hole in the material, taking seconds to burn through a 0.5-inch-thick (13 mm) stainless steel sheet. 

There are three main types of laser cutting techniques: CO2 laser (for cutting, boring, and engraving), neodymium (Nd), and neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd:YAG). Nd is used for high energy, low repetition boring while Nd:YAG is used for very high-power boring and engraving.   This is a rarely used laser solution but available and often found in the semiconductor industry.  More specifically, Nd:YAG is used to separate microelectronic chips from silicon wafers.  Fiber laser cutting which relies on solid-state technology and glass fiber technology to deliver the laser beam.  

CO2 lasers pass a current through a gas mix or use radio frequency energy. The radio frequency method has external electrodes and avoids problems related to electrode erosion and plating. 

The type of gas flow can affect laser performance. Common variants of CO2 laser include fast axial flow, slow axial flow, transverse flow, and slab. 

Different techniques are used to cool the laser generator and external optics. Waste heat can be transferred directly to the air or a coolant can be used. Water is a common coolant. 

One example of water-cooled laser processing is a laser microjet system. This system couples a pulsed laser beam with a low-pressure water jet to guide the beam like an optical fiber. The water also removes debris and cools the material. 

Fiber lasers are becoming popular in the metal cutting industry. This technology uses a solid gain medium instead of liquid or gas. The laser is amplified in a glass fiber to produce a smaller spot size than CO2 techniques, making it ideal for cutting reflective metals. 

Compared to a CO2 laser, fiber lasers are highly efficient and have comparatively lower operational costs. The cost per diode is dropping exponentially so Fiber Lasers are more competitive than CO2 Lasers and Fiber Laser is so cost effective it is now even competing favorably with high-definition Plasma cutting applications.

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Yes, we have a complete software package to control Fiber Laser.  Use our software on any Industrial PC to control a cnc laser cutter.  Please contact us for trial software download and license.

Primary Industries that Rely on Fiber and CO2 Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is a popular method for cutting materials such as metal, plastic, wood, and glass. It is used in a variety of industries, including the automotive and medical device industries, due to its high accuracy and precision. Each industry has its own requirements and uses laser cutting in different ways. For example, the automotive industry uses laser cutting to create car parts and components while the medical device industry uses it to create medical devices and implants. 

 Automotive Industry: The automotive industry uses laser cutting to produce a range of components with tight tolerances. Laser cutting’s flexibility and ability to create complex shapes make it a popular technology for producing car parts. In the past, car parts were created with stamping and die-cutting methods, but these methods are not as accurate or capable of creating complex shapes as laser cutting. Sheet metal laser cutters are commonly used in the automotive industry to cut materials such as car parts, components, die-castings, forgings, and stampings.  Laser is a often used to trim parts of excess material after stamping too and this reduces machining time.  

Metalworking Industry: Metalworking involves shaping and forming metal into desired shapes using various tools. Laser cutting is often used in the metalworking industry to cut metal into desired shapes for products such as beams, columns, pipes, tubing, and sheet metal. These products can be used in industries such as construction, automotive, and aerospace. 

Medical Device Industry: The medical device industry uses laser cutting to produce products such as pacemakers, stents, and catheters. The laser beam melts, vaporizes or burns away material to leave a clean, precise cut. Laser cutting is often used to create intricate designs for products intended for use within the human body. The type of laser cutting used depends on the material being cut and the desired final product. For example, stainless steel can be cut with a CO2 laser while plastics can be cut with a fiber laser. 

Jewelry Industry: The jewelry industry has undergone a major transformation with the advent of laser-cutting technology. While traditional methods relied on manual labor and simple tools, laser cutting allows for more precise and intricate designs. As a result, jewelry made with laser cutting is often more intricate than its traditional counterpart. Laser cutting is typically used in the jewelry industry to create detailed patterns in metal and to cut gemstones. It can also be used to engrave text or images onto jewelry pieces. Common jewelry products made with laser cutting include rings, pendants, earrings, and bracelets. The use of laser cutting in the jewelry industry has revolutionized jewelry making and allowed for new levels of creativity and design. 

Ceramic Manufacturing: Ceramic manufacturing involves shaping and firing ceramic materials to create products. Laser cutting can be used to create precise shapes and designs in ceramics. This is often used to create intricate patterns and decorative elements in products such as tiles, pottery, and sculptures. CO2 laser cutting is typically used in the ceramic industry to cut through the material with precision and speed. 

Silicon Industry: Laser cutting is a vital process in the silicon industry, which produces silicon wafers for use in electronic devices. CO2 laser cutting is used to create small-scale features on silicon wafers for products such as integrated circuits, solar cells, and semiconductor chips. 

Packaging Industry: Laser cutting is used in the packaging industry to create products such as boxes, containers, and lids. Both fiber lasers and CO2 lasers are used in this industry. CO2 lasers are typically used to cut cardboard, paper, and thin plastics while fiber lasers are used to cut thicker and harder packaging materials. 

Woodworking Industry: The woodworking industry produces wood products for construction, furniture making, and other purposes. Laser cutting is often used in this industry to create precise and intricate designs in wood for products such as furniture, cabinets, and decorative items. CO2 laser cutting is typically used in the woodworking industry to cut through wood with a high level of precision. 

Suitable Materials for Fiber and CO2 Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is a way to cut materials using a powerful laser beam. There are two main types of lasers used for cutting: fiber lasers and CO2 lasers. Fiber lasers are good for cutting metals, wood, acrylic, and leather. They can also make marks on some plastics and metals. CO2 lasers can cut wood, some plastics, glass, fabric, rubber, and leather.  

However, there are some materials that shouldn’t be cut with a laser because they can release dangerous gases or dust. These materials include some types of leather and artificial leather, carbon fibers, PVC, PVB, Teflon, beryllium oxide, and any materials containing halogens or certain types of resins. 

Methods for Cutting Using Lasers

There are several methods of cutting materials using lasers. These methods include vaporization, melt and blow, thermal stress cracking, stealth dicing, and reactive cutting. 

Vaporization cutting involves heating the surface of the material with a focused laser beam until it reaches a flashpoint and creates a keyhole. The keyhole deepens as vapor erodes the molten walls and enlarges the hole. This method is typically used to cut non-melting materials such as wood, carbon, and thermoset plastics. 

Melt and blow, also known as fusion cutting, uses high-pressure gas to blow molten material out of the cutting area. This reduces the power requirement and is typically used to cut metals. 

Thermal stress cracking exploits the sensitivity of brittle materials to thermal fracture. A laser beam is focused on the surface to cause localized heating and thermal expansion, resulting in a crack that can be guided by moving the beam. This method is usually used to cut glass. 

Stealth dicing is a process used to separate microelectronic chips from silicon wafers. It uses a pulsed Nd:YAG laser with a wavelength well adapted to the electronic band gap of silicon. 

Reactive cutting, also known as burning stabilized laser gas cutting or flame cutting, is similar to oxygen torch cutting but uses a laser beam as the ignition source. It is mostly used for cutting carbon steel over 1 mm thick. 

Key Advantages of Laser-based Sheet Metal Cutting over Plasma Cutting

Plasma cutting and laser cutting are two methods used to cut sheet metal. Plasma cutting was developed in the 1950s as an alternative to flame cutting. It works by firing a superheated, electrically ionized gas at high speed toward the workpiece. An electrical arc is formed within the gas, ionizing some of the gas and creating an electrically conductive channel of plasma. The electricity from the cutter torch travels down this plasma, generating heat to melt through the workpiece. The plasma and compressed gas blow away the hot molten metal, separating the workpiece. 

Laser cutting was developed in the 1960s to cut holes in diamond dies. This thermal cutting process uses a computer-directed, high-power laser along with oxygen, nitrogen, and compressed air to burn, melt, vaporize or blow away the material being cut. The laser beam is emitted from the laser source and transported through a beamline into the laser head containing lenses that focus the beam onto the surface of the material. 

Two types of lasers are used in these applications: CO2 lasers and solid-state lasers – Fiber Lasers are a specific type of Solid-State lasers.  CO2 lasers are thought to be cheaper but cannot cut through copper, brass, and aluminum because they do not work on reflective surfaces.   In contrast, fiber lasers have higher energy efficiency and can cut a wider variety of materials at higher processing speeds. 

Each method has its own capabilities and benefits. Laser cutting is a non-contact process that offers high precision while plasma cutting offers versatility across different types of metal. Key differences between laser and plasma cutting include cutting technology, precision, capital investment required, cutting speed, cutting thickness, and versatility. 

Fiber lasers advantage over Plasma Cutting 

Fiber laser cutting has several advantages over plasma cutting. It can be used on a wide range of materials, including steel, aluminum, stainless steel, non-ferrous metal sheets, plastics, glass, wood, and ceramics. The bundled laser beam only heats up the material locally, minimizing thermal stresses on the rest of the workpiece. This allows for the smooth cutting of intricate contours with little-to-no burrs. Ultrashort pulses can vaporize virtually any material quickly, creating high-quality cutting edges without ejecting melted material. This makes fiber lasers ideal for manufacturing intricate metal products such as stents for medical technology and cutting chemically hardened glass for the display industry. 

The first commercial laser devices appeared in the late 1980s and used single-mode diode pumping to emit only a few tens of milliwatts. However, many laser applications required watts of optical power rather than milliwatts. The jump to watt-level fiber-laser output was made with the introduction of a 4 W erbium-doped fiber laser. This laid the groundwork for the development of high-power fiber lasers in the 1990s. 

In the early 2000s, fiber laser cutting was introduced to the commercial market. The first fiber lasers for cutting reflective metals were introduced in 2008 and different laser beam conveying methods allowed cutting metals such as aluminum, brass, copper, and galvanized steel.