The laser machines available in the market mainly differ by the laser source they use. Each laser type has its own advantages and disadvantages and is suited for use on different applications.

1. Introduction

Precisely cutting metal parts is a crucial part of the metal fabrication process. Laser cutting can achieve detailed shapes, holes and lines on any metal sheet with a very high pace and precision. Due to these novel features, laser cutting significantly reduces fabrication time and eliminates machining and tooling.

There have been exponential developments in laser cutting machinery in the last decades. When deciding investing in a laser machine, there are various consideration to be taken into account. One major thing to consider is the selection of the cutting technology; fiber lasers vs CO2 lasers.

2. CO2 Lasers

Having first being used in 1980s in the manufacturing industry, CO2 lasers are the early pioneers of laser cutting. C02 technology uses generated light by combining carbon dioxide and nitrogen gasses, and magnifies those photons of light into a focused beam with a wavelength of about 10 microns. CO2 Lasers require some preparation time before starting cutting. They require significant maintenance compared to the fiber laser machines.

Figure 1: CO2 Laser

3. Fiber Lasers

Although fiber laser technology has developed as early as 1970s, it only began industrialized for manufacturing applications in the 2000s. This industrialization is followed with rapid developments with several types of cutting applications. Fiber Lasers generate light photos with optical fibres rather than gasses.

One major outcome of the fiber laser technology is that the wavelength of the light is around 1 micron, 10 times smaller than of Co2 lasers. Due to unnecessary mirrors and equipment to hold and transport gases, fibre laser cutters are more compact and small in volume. Also fiber laser are cheaper to operate and less prone to malfunction.  As fiber lasers do not need gasses to operate, they require less power consumption and sustainable impact level which make them a more sustainable option. A 2kW fiber can thin metal sheet as fast as a 4-5 kW Co2.

On the other hand, CO2 machines are the optimum choice when working with thick metal sheets. They offer a more clean finish and better edge quality than fibre, for thick metal applications.

For copper, brass and aluminium metal sheets, fiber laser offer better and safer cutting compared to the CO2 lasers due to the lower reflection of the beam.  Fiber lasers incur almost half of the C02 operation costs thanks to the lower power consumption and higher electrical efficiency.

Fiber lasers have a fully isolated Fiber optic beam path both at the energy source and at the Fiber delivery to the cutting head. The beam is not subjected to contaminate as is the case with CO2 lasers. Moreover, Fiber optic beam paths maintain consistent centering of the nozzle beam.

Figure 2: Fiber Laser

4. Conclusion

Fiber lasers provide more precise and better quality sheet metal cutting while keeping operating and maintenance cost lower and eventually offering better return on investment. CO2 lasers are suitable for high quality cutting for thick materials but they are far from cost effective compared to the fiber lasers. Overall, it can be claimed that fibre lasers have both technological and economical superiority over the CO2 lasers which also reflects the current market domination of fibre lasers among the new laser investments.

For further reading please check our article on laser cutting vs plasma cutting.

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