The Evolution and History of Laser Cutting Technology

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Many people associate lasers with sci-fi movies, particularly the famous lightsabers used in Star Wars or red laser line traps you’d see in spy movies. It is true that lasers frequently appear in popular culture, but laser cutting technology is also widely used by various secondary sector industries to laser cut and engrave materials at high precision as part of their production processes. 

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(Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, pictured above)

Although laser cutting appears to be a contemporary technology, its early origins might surprise you. The foundation of the first optical laser beams can be found in the theoretical work of Einstein. Then, it followed a remarkable evolutionary path and went on to become the powerful industrial cutting, etching and welding laser machines we see today. 

Let's read about the basic concept of laser cutting technology and its history.

What Is Laser Cutting?

Hard materials can be cut or engraved by melting, burning, or vaporizing the materials. The laser cutting technology is called laser cutting. Laser cutting can be used to drill holes or cut shapes in metal and other materials in a production line.

It has numerous industrial uses in diverse industries. Laser cutting is also a creative method used to carve decorative patterns on surfaces. With the help of the best laser engraving machines, you can execute any design you desire with high precision and speed. 

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The main benefit of laser machine technology is its accuracy; for pin-point precision, the high power beam is concentrated through a laser cutting nozzle. Nowadays, intricate designs may be implemented in industrial lasers, thanks to the usage of engineering CAD technology software in laser cutting.

How Does Laser Cutting Work?

A laser works by stimulating the atoms in a solid, liquid, or gas medium. This calls for an energy pump, which may be a second laser or even an electrical current. Light is produced as the medium's atoms begin to absorb energy. By positioning a mirror at each end of the medium to create an optical cavity, this laser light is focused.

A laser beam is focused onto sheet metal or similar hard material to create a vaporization effect. The focus point and wattage of the laser beam can be changed by experts using lenses, mirrors, and pressurized gasses such as carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen. After the material is etched by the laser beam's burning or melting, the technician can move the laser cutting machine head to the next spot with its X-Y axis gantry rails. 

Who Invented Laser Cutting?

When Albert Einstein developed his hypothesis of "stimulated emission of radiation," which forms the basis of the current laser, the history of laser cutting began. He postulated that when electrons absorb enough energy to advance an energy level within an atom, they may produce photons.

Albert Einstein, Photon, History of Laser, Invention, Scientist

Gordon Gould, a scientist, developed Einstein's theory in 1959. He proposed that light could be amplified by using the stimulated emission of radiation. Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, or LASER for short, is the name of his theory.

The first functional laser was created by Theodore Maiman in a California lab in 1960. Despite the fact that many of his contemporaries couldn't find a use for his ruby laser, he used synthetic ruby to produce a deep red beam. In fact, the public viewed the technology with skepticism and even distrust and labeled it "a solution seeking for a problem." But many scientists, particularly those working at Bell Labs in New Jersey, saw Maiman's invention's potential.

In 1964, a scientist at Bell Labs created laser-assisted thermal cutting methods. In order to improve on ruby laser cutting in terms of speed and efficiency, Kumar Patel invented a gas laser cutting technique using a carbon dioxide combination. Later that year, J.E. Geusic, a coworker at Bell Labs, developed the crystal laser technique. The invention attracted the public's interest, and it was used in a famous scene in the 1964 bond film Goldfinger, in which the movie's antagonist attempted to use a laser beam to split James Bond in half.

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(Goldfinger, 1964)

First Use of a Laser Cutter

The Western Engineering Research Center in Buffalo, New York, was the first organization to use laser cutting in 1965. The team was looking for a more effective method of producing electrical wires. Diamond dies were then used by manufacturers to extrude metal wire, and it was costly, time-consuming, and challenging to drill the die holes.

To drill the holes more quickly, the Western Engineering Research Center invented focused laser beam cutting. This was a pivotal point in the development of laser cutting and opened the door for other businesses to investigate the possible applications of laser cutting technology. The focus of the group's work was largely on learning more about the security of laser beams and their potential health risks.

History of Laser Cutting Technology

Scientists created the gas laser cutting technique utilizing carbon dioxide not long after the Western Engineering Research Center began using laser cutting technology as a drilling tool. This innovation increased the adaptability of laser cutting technology. The general acceptance of the technique was especially dependent on the creation of lasers that could cut through metals like mild steel.

In 1969, the Boeing Company was the first to commercially use gas laser cutting. Three employees of this company co-wrote a paper that explored the concept of using a carbon dioxide laser to cut Hastelloy, titanium, and ceramic. As a result of this paper, multi-beam laser cutting technology was created, and Boeing began utilizing laser beams as a productive cutting method on its manufacturing lines. In the 1970s, Western Electric began mass producing laser cutting equipment that was extensively used in the aerospace sector.

Boeing, airplane manufacturing, laser metal cutting, metal fabrication

During the 1980s, gas based laser cutting became widely used. According to the experts, more than 20,000 industrial laser machines are estimated to have been in use. As a result, manufacturing industries were completely transformed by the use of laser cutting techniques, which marked the start of a new industrial revolution.

Another crucial turning point in the development of laser cutting machines occurred in 1979. Laser cutting was two-dimensional up until this time. The Italian company Prima Industrie created a 3D laser cutting method that greatly increased the possible uses for laser cutting technology.

Laser Cutting Technology Today

Since the Boeing Company began producing laser-drilled dies in the late 1960s, laser cutting has advanced significantly. Nowadays, laser energy is widely used across many industries, particularly in the production of automobile parts and construction. With the development of laser cutting technology, thicker and more diverse materials, including acrylic, leather, hard plastics and even metal, may now be cut using this method. Manufacturers may scale up production while reducing worker hours thanks to the much faster material cutting speeds offered by fiber and CO2 laser cutting systems compared to earlier methods. That is why CO2 laser machines and fiber laser engravers are gaining popularity.

OMTech Fiber Laser Cutting machine, metal cutter, metal cutting, fc- fiber cutter

CO2 laser engraving is also widely used on small scale production for household items. Ever noticed some patterned engravings on your kitchen cutting board or serial numbers on your pen, you very likely have items in your home that have been cut or engraved by lasers, so just have a look around. The best laser engraving machines are widely used by small businesses and crafty hobbyists to engrave patterned decorations, text or logos onto objects, including items such as the letters on your computer's keyboard.

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Key Take Away

Laser cutting machines are a fascinating technology with an intriguing history. You need the right tools and knowledge to execute the task accurately and effectively. Whether you need CO2 laser machines or fiber cutting lasers for cutting or engraving, OMTech is a reliable service provider that can assist you in finding the right solution for your specific needs. Grow your home businesses or find a part time income and hobby.

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