The technique of laser cutting stainless steel is a process used in industrial manufacturing to produce precision-cut steel pieces. It is accomplished with the use of a highly focused beam of light, the laser, guided by a computer. While laser machining is used for different types of flat sheet material, stainless steel responds well to laser cutting because it does not conduct the heat away from the laser beam, resulting in an smooth and even cut. There are different methods of laser cutting for stainless steel, depending on the laser type and machine configuration, including the moving material, flying optics, and hybrid configuration types.
The most common laser type used in laser cutting stainless steel is called a CO2 laser because the beam is amplified inside a chamber filled with carbon dioxide. Industrial lasers use a lot of electrical power, ranging anywhere from 1,000 watts to over 8,000 watts. The laser beam itself is usually only a fraction of a millimeter thick: the more focused the beam the higher the cutting temperature.
Industrial machines used for laser cutting stainless steel usually have two major components: the laser head from which the laser beam emerges and the material table. These two components can be configured in different ways to create different types of laser cutting. The major types of industrial laser cutting machine configurations are moving material, flying optics, and a hybrid configuration.
The moving material method of laser cutting stainless steel is so called because the laser beam remains stationary while the material that is being cut moves beneath it. The laser beam remains at a fixed distance from the steel, resulting in high accuracy but limiting the flexibility of the machine. This method is generally used for laser cutting stainless steel sheets into flat shapes.
In flying optics laser cutting, stainless steel remains stationary while the laser moves over it in two directions. Unlike the moving material laser cutting configuration, the laser beam does not remain at a fixed distance from the steel, and this can require careful configuration and alignment of the machine between cutting applications. The flying optics laser cutting method is often used when three dimensional machined steel pieces are required.
The hybrid configuration is a combination of both moving material and flying optics laser cutting machine configurations, in which both the material and the laser beam are capable of movement. Generally, the steel moves on one axis while the laser moves on another. Hybrid laser cutting systems are often preferred for laser cutting stainless steel because less power is lost using this process.