Laser cutting plays an integral role in the aluminum fabrication process. However, before choosing the aluminum laser cutting process – get the right equipment.
Additionally, you should know the aluminum alloy grades, part specifications, and challenges during laser cutting, amongst others.
Today’s guide covers everything about later cutting aluminum material. So, before starting your next project, read this guide.
Common Laser Cutting Aluminum Problems
Although metal laser cutting remains a popular fabrication technique, with aluminum it can be a challenge.
Take for instance;
Aluminum Reflective Surface is a Problem in Laser Cutting
The aluminum reflective surface can cause the laser beam to bounce back. As a result, the beam can damage the laser machine.
It is a common phenomenon when using a CO2 laser machine to cut aluminum.
So, how do you handle this?
You can coat aluminum with a non-reflective material. But of course, you can only coat the surface. However, as you start cutting aluminum with a laser, it exposes another reflective layer.
You will experience this problem with pure aluminum such as the AW 1050. Remember, these aluminum grades do not have many alloying elements.
Usually, the alloying elements may reduce the aluminum’s reflective nature.
Burrs Forming on Laser Cut Aluminum
Other laser cutting aluminum problems are:
- Formation of burrs
- Inconsistent finishes
Once the laser cutting machine leaves burrs on the aluminum surface, it will require additional surface finishing operations.
Removing the burrs mechanically simply implies you will incur additional expenses. You can avoid burrs by using the correct laser cutting aluminum parameters.
Additionally, your experience and expertise in laser cutting metals are an integral aspect here.
Aluminum’s Thermal Conductivity
As aluminum conducts heat rapidly, creating a cooling effect. As a result, it may be difficult to attain a suitable temperature for laser cutting aluminum.
To solve this problem, you can use a high pulse frequency with a high-speed laser cutting machine. The process will be fast thereby cutting aluminum before heat dissipation.
Initial High Processing Cost
Post-processing operations may increase the aluminum laser cutting cost. Additionally, a high-powered CO2 laser machine implies a high initial cost.
Limited Laser Cutting Aluminum Thickness
When the laser cutting aluminum thickness exceeds a certain threshold, the final part quality will be poor. As a result, you may need more machining processes which will only increase the cost.
Most experts do not recommend laser cutters for aluminum sheets whose thickness is more than 30mm. For a better part finish, you can choose water jet cutting technology for any thickness above 15mm.
Waterjet cutting technology is an efficient and cost-effective solution for thicker aluminum plates.
In short, when you opt to cut aluminum using a laser machine, these are common challenges you may experience. As you can see, there is a solution to each problem.
Aluminum Fabrication – Source: KDM
Sheet Metal Laser Cutting – Source: KDM
Laser Cutting – Source: Wikipedia
Advantages of Laser Cut Aluminum
So far, cutting aluminum with a laser machine remains a popular fabrication technique in many industries.
Here is why you should consider this aluminum cutting technique:
- Fiber laser cut aluminum parts have a high-quality surface finish as long as you set the right parameters
- Accuracy and precision are high which can be ±0.004″
- High cutting speeds
- When using CNC laser cutting machine, there is a high degree of repeatability
- Laser cutting is a non-contact process – Therefore, there will be no damage to the tooling system or instances of mechanical stress
- It is an efficient and reliable process
Best Machine for Aluminum Laser Cutting
Broadly, you can choose these machines for your laser cutting aluminum:
- Fiber laser cutter
- CO2 laser cutter
At this juncture, it is important to mention that cutting aluminum using fiber laser remains a popular option.
Fiber lasers are suitable for cutting reflective materials such as aluminum. Of course, this is attributed to fiber laser machine design features and configurations.
A fiber laser with a 1.06µm wavelength can cut aluminum sheets easily. The same also applies to the Nd YAG laser. In this case, the aluminum sheet readily absorbs the wavelength.
On the other hand, if you look at the CO2 laser, their design and structure feature many mirrors. And, this is where the problem comes in.
As you cut reflective aluminum surfaces the beam can easily damage the mirrors.
Let’s take a typical scenario where the CO2 laser cutter produces beams within 9.5-10.6 µm wavelength. Unfortunately, the reflective aluminum surface will reflect nearly all the beams to the laser machine.
Consequently, you will not cut aluminum. The energy that will be put to use will not be sufficient to cut aluminum.
If you must use a CO2 laser to cut aluminum, then go for high-power machines. Additionally, the CO2 laser for cutting aluminum must have a high frequency.
Here is the logic – with such laser cutters, the beam will reach the aluminum surface faster. As a result, the beam will overcome the power lost by reflection.
When you compare CO2 laser and fiber laser for cutting aluminum, the latter is 3 times faster. Of course, this is when we consider the same wattage.
Carbon-dioxide Laser –Source: Wikipedia
Fiber Laser – Source: Science Direct
Aluminum Sheet Metal Laser Cutting – Source: Fractory
Nd YAG Laser – Source: Wikipedia
Factors to Consider Before Cutting Aluminum with Laser Machine
Most definitely, you want accurate and clean aluminum cut parts. If that is the case, then consider the following before cutting aluminum:
Experience and Expertise
You should have the necessary experience and expertise in laser cutting metals. That is, know how to configure the machine, upload the necessary files and conduct the cutting operation.
Type of Laser Machine
Choosing a suitable laser cutting machine will ensure efficiency and reliability. In most cases, using low-power CO2 can be a challenge. Aluminum will reflect all the useful laser beams that should cut the material.
Therefore, you should choose a fiber laser cutting machine for aluminum fabrication. Fiber laser cut aluminum is more cost-effective and readily available.
Know Aluminum Grade you Want to Cut
There are many aluminum grades whose classifications vary depending on the alloying metal composition.
In most cases, aluminum grades with high alloying elements are easier to cut. Besides, they don’t have high reflectivity like pure aluminum alloys.
Consider the Laser Machine Power
The power determines the laser machine’s ability to cut aluminum. It also dictates the thickness of the aluminum material you can cut. A 500W fiber laser (higher) can easily cut 3mm thick aluminum material.
However, if you choose a pulsed CO2 laser, with 6kHz, you can cut 3mm thick aluminum material but the speed will be low.
In the recent past, many aluminum fabricators have adopted multi-pass cutting technologies that have low laser power. The net effect is lowering the cost of aluminum laser cutting and a better surface finish.
Laser Cutting Machine Speed
There are two scenarios here:
- Extremely high cutting speed can cause burrs on laser cut aluminum
- Very slow cutting speeds may cause cracks on laser cut aluminum
So, you must learn to configure your aluminum laser cutter properly. For instance, increasing laser cutting speed guarantee smooth edges.
That is, assuming the laser power does not change.
The cutting speed varies depending on the laser cutting machine type and material thickness.
Auxiliary Gas during Aluminum Laser
The gas will prevent the laser cutting head from overheating. You can choose any of these gases:
- Oxygen – although it increases aluminum cutting speed. It will oxidize the cut section.
- Natural air – the chances of aluminum oxidation are low and it improves surface finish.
- Nitrogen – it is characterized by smooth edges, zero oxidation, and is suitable for high cutting speeds.
Whether you choose fiber laser cut aluminum or CO2 laser cutting aluminum – always go for a suitable assist gas. For aluminum, always choose nitrogen.
Remember, the oxidation which may be brought about by using oxygen can be problematic. If you intend to weld aluminum laser cut parts later during the metal fabrication process.
Aluminum Alloys – Source: Wikipedia
Sheet Metal Fabrication – Source: KDM
Aluminum Welding – Source: KDM
Laser Cut Aluminum – Source: MachineMFG
How Laser Cutting Aluminum Process
Once you choose a suitable aluminum laser cutter machine, configure the machine accordingly. The configurations will depend on the aluminum metal alloy grade, size, and thickness.
You will design the aluminum pattern you want to cut. Then upload the design in the laser machine control system or software panel.
Next, clamp the aluminum on the laser machine work table.
Once you switch ON the aluminum laser cutter, it will produce a high-powered laser beam. The machine will focus the beam on the aluminum sections you want to cut.
When the high-powered laser beam gets in contact with aluminum, the material will quickly:
- Vaporize or
Air flowing concurrently with the beam will blow away the waste.
Note: Before using any aluminum laser cutting machine, you should refer to the manufacturer’s manual.
Additionally, you should:
- Have an operator monitor the laser cutting process
- Wear all the safety gears
- Only allow trained personnel to operate the machine
- Ensure the workshop is properly lit and ventilated
- Use only well-maintained metal laser cutters
Laser Cutting Aluminum Vs. Laser Cutting Stainless Steel
Due to the reflective nature of aluminum and stainless steel, it would be interesting to evaluate how to cut the two materials. Probably, you also know that stainless steel is a popular material in the sheet metal fabrication process.
Let’s see how laser cutting stainless steel compares to aluminum:
|Parameters for metal laser cutting||Explanation|
|Recommended gas||· Nitrogen is a perfect option more so where oxidation is not required. This is critical when laser cutting aluminum.|
· You can also use nitrogen when laser cutting stainless steel. At times, you may use oxygen to laser cut stainless steel.
|Cutting speed||· Aluminum or stainless steel with greater thickness implies low laser cutting speed.|
|Cutting power||· It varies depending on the material you want to cut|
|Type of laser||· Fiber lasers are highly recommended for cutting aluminum. You may also use a CO2 laser, however, the process must meet certain conditions.|
· You can use a fiber laser cutter or CO2 laser cutter when fabricating stainless steel
Applications of Laser Cut Aluminum Parts
Laser cutting plays an integral role in aluminum fabrications. You can use laser cut aluminum parts as final products.
Alternatively, the laser cut aluminum sections can be part of a manufacturing process. That is, you may:
- Bend, punch, drill, stamp, or mill laser cut aluminum parts
- Assemble by welding or riveting aluminum parts to make a complete product
Ideally, you can use laser cutting to make many aluminum parts such as:
- Fan blades
- Heat exchanger parts
- Robot parts
- Aluminum frame parts
- Airplane parts
- Enclosure sections
- Aluminum letters and numbers
- Automotive body parts, etc.
In short, you can cut virtually any aluminum part depending on your design and specifications.
Recommended Aluminium Laser Cutting Price
If you want to start your aluminum fabrication company, then you must buy a laser machine. A good later machine varies from 4,900 USD to over 15,000 USD.
The price varies depending on the specifications. If you are importing laser machines from China, you must consider taxes and logistics costs.
Aluminum laser cutting prices depend on many factors:
- Part size
- Laser cutting price per minute
- Aluminum material cost
- Order quantity
- Complexity of the aluminum part
- Customization requirements
In summary, there are no fixed prices for cutting aluminum parts with laser machines. It is upon you to negotiate the best rates with the aluminum fabricating company.
At KDM, we offer competitive prices on all our laser cut parts. Laser cutting being part of our aluminum metal fabrication process, we ensure you get quality parts at affordable rates.
Our team will help you during the design process, from laser cutting to other secondary fabrication processes – talk to us now.
Can you Cut Aluminum with Laser?
Yes, it is a soft metal you can cut easily using a fiber laser.
If you must use a CO2 laser, then we recommend a high-power laser. Additionally, you may need to coat an aluminum surface with a non-reflective material.
Which kind of Laser Cuts Aluminum?
Fiber laser is a perfect choice.
How Thick Can Laser Cut Aluminum?
A fiber laser can cut between 0.1mm and 15mm thick aluminum sheets or plates. However, for very thick aluminum plates, the Waterjet cutter is always a perfect alternative.
Is Laser Cutting Suitable for All Aluminum Grades?
However, you should note that:
- Aluminum alloy grades 1000, 2000, and 3000 series are difficult to cut. In these alloys, the surface may appear more dross and rough (no high-quality cut). This is attributed to the alloying elements.
- Aluminum alloy grades 5000, 6000, and 7000 are easy to cut with a laser machine. You can produce high-quality cuts and use assist gas where possible.
Can you Cut Aluminum with 100W CO2 Laser?
Although you may achieve a quality finish, the soft and reflective nature can prove to be a challenge. Therefore, you can coat aluminum with a non-reflective material.
That makes laser cutting anodized aluminum easier with a CO2 laser.
How Long Does Laser Cutting Aluminum Take?
Laser cutting metals is a fast process. The process can take 1 second or more depending on the aluminum size and thickness.
How does Aluminum Laser Cutting compare to Aluminum Laser Engraving?
Aluminum laser engraving uses a laser machine to cut very small sections (incising) patterns on a material surface. The laser machine in aluminum engraving has a lens with a shorter focal length.
On the other hand, laser cutting aluminum is a process that separates section (s) from the parent material (aluminum blank). The laser machines in aluminum cutting have longer focal lengths.
Can you Cut Aluminum Plates with Laser Machine?
However, the power will vary depending on the aluminum plate thickness. For instance, a 16mm laser cut Aluminium sheet may require a 6000w laser cutter.
On the other hand, a 12mm thick aluminum plate will require a 4500w laser cutter. Just ensure you set the recommended laser cutting aluminum parameters before the process begins.
Although cutting aluminum with a laser machine has some challenges, it is an accurate and precise metal cutting technique. With expertise, suitable aluminum alloy, and a laser machine, the process remains a perfect solution in the metal cutting industry.