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Laser cutting can be a highly accurate fabrication process, but that’s only true if you take the necessary steps to maintain or improve accuracy as needed. Here are some actionable tips to get started.
Understand How the Design Can Affect Accuracy
Choosing the design you want to create while laser cutting is a critical step that influences accuracy. Start by checking that your designs and cutouts are at least 1x larger than your material’s thickness. Accuracy will suffer if they’re any smaller, and the machine may not cut them at all.
Another common mistake to be aware of with your design involves forgetting to connect any supplementary letters or shapes to the primary design while making the file. Failing to include that bridging would lose the non-connected parts in the output and sacrifice the laser’s ability to cut cleanly.
Finally, remove any unnecessary complexity from your design. Tiny pieces and complex sections make it more prone to breakage since they require more laser cuts overall. Remove all intersecting lines in the design. Otherwise, the laser will cut on them, causing unintended effects that could ruin or drastically change how everything looks.
Paying close attention to how the design looks before using the laser cutter prevents undesired outcomes. Doing this requires time and a sharp eye. However, it’s worth it so that your real-life design matches what you envision.
Choose the Right Laser Cutter for the Job
Matching the laser cutter to the task at hand is another important step for improving accuracy. If the laser is not powerful enough to handle the material, you won’t get a clean-cut, and the beam may not go through at all.
If you’re getting ready to invest in a laser cutter or are at a facility that has several options available, pay attention to the wattage and how it relates to your material. Getting a 40-watt laser allows cutting through materials like foam and thin plastic.
Then, going up to a 300-watt model gives opportunities to cut thicker plastic and thin steel pieces. Finally, a 500-watt laser is the best choice for steel that’s at least 2 millimetres thick.
Sometimes, you may believe your laser has sufficient power for your project, although it’s still not making the expected accurate cuts. In such cases, the issue may stem from matters like a damaged focusing lens, voltage instability, or water turbidity in the cooling system.
Learn About Any Potentially Complicating Factors of Your Project
Certain ways people use laser cutters can introduce extra challenges. When working with carbon steel, machine users may notice rough and imprecise cuts. Numerous aspects could cause that problem, resulting in lower overall accuracy. A damaged or incorrectly sized nozzle is a possible culprit. If acrylic is the material of choice, it’s ideal if the minimum path spacing is equal to or greater than the thickness of what you’re cutting.
In other instances, people use lasers to cut pipes. Raw material significantly impacts the finished part’s accuracy. Tolerances matter, too. Robert Adelman, the North American laser product manager at BLM Group USA, said, “There are a lot more tolerances to consider with tubing than when compared to flat sheet or plate.”
He continued, “In general, they follow the ASTM standard. However, with that, we know the tubing isn’t exactly the 2-inch square it is listed as. It is slightly larger or smaller, and possibly not a square, but a trapezoid with either convex or concave sides.”
Tyler Van Wyhe, an applications engineer at Mazak Optonics, followed up by saying, “If the material is oversized or undersized, that’s one thing, but bowing and twisting will also be a significant factor. If the raw material cannot hold the tolerance — say ±0.03 inches — then you can't expect to make a part better than that out of the material.”
He concluded, “Getting a good-quality part out the door starts with [a] high-quality tube. Depending on accuracy and tolerance required, it might be worth investigating where to best purchase the material.”
Cut on a Sample Piece First
We’ve already discussed how the laser’s power could affect accuracy. The same goes for the speed. Generally speaking, the higher a laser’s power level, the faster it can work. Also, as the speed increases, you’ll see a reduction in the slit width and vice versa.
The chosen process also impacts speed and could affect accuracy. If you reverse the cutting direction or go around a sharp corner while in continuous wave mode, those movements reduce the feed rate. You may then see a decrease in quality.
If your average power and speed are too low while working in pulsed processing mode, the work area will stay too cool. That temperature-related issue compromises heat conduction and could lead to outcomes that are less accurate than expected.
The best way to avoid speed- and power-related mishaps after diving into your project are to test the settings on a sample piece of material. After scrutinizing the results, you can decide whether to alter things before getting started.
Make Maintenance an Ongoing Concern
At some fabrication shops, machine upkeep only becomes a priority once an operator brings up an issue with accuracy or speed. However, staying dedicated to maintenance before problems occur keeps productivity high. When people regularly participate in upkeep for the laser cutters, they’ll be more able to spot problems that arise.
It’s also helpful that many of today’s laser cutters have maintenance options built into their controllers. Users can set reminders for taking certain steps after a particular number of usage hours for the machine.
A fabrication shop’s entire process could become useless without enough attention paid to maintenance. Encourage all employees to take it seriously and promptly report any issues they experience.
Make it easier for them by creating processes for them to follow. Posting maintenance checklists by the laser cutters is a good first step. However, it’s also helpful to suggest troubleshooting strategies to address some accuracy issues. Having them try those first is a time-saving way to verify that maintenance could solve the issue. Sometimes, what initially seems like a machine functionality problem boils down to user error.
Start Increasing Accuracy With Laser Cutting Today
These tips will help you get a clearer grasp of what impacts accuracy with your laser-cutting projects. Trying them is an excellent way to pursue continuous improvement and avoid costly or frustrating mistakes.