What is 3D Laser Cutting and How Does it Work?

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It's an exciting time for the laser cutting industry. What once seemed like a far-off, futuristic pipe dream has now become a reality. With the advent of 3D laser cutting, the possibility of creating an even more unique category of laser cutting projects has become a reality.

Laser cutting technology has been simplifying manufacturing processes since the 1960s. Initially, lasers fulfilled a need within military applications and showed potential for industrial use. By the 1980s, the commercial sale of fiber lasers was in full swing, and laser technology would continue to evolve rapidly. 3D laser cutting is the latest innovation, and to say it's exciting is an understatement. While traditional 2D laser cutters forge flat materials, 3D laser cutters can adapt to workpieces of varying shapes. 

What Is a 3D Laser Cutter?

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2D laser cutter machines operate on an X- and Y-axis matrix. This matrix allows for lateral movement of the laser beam, making 2D laser cutters optimal for forging flat materials. Alternatively, a 3D laser cutter machine works on an X-, Y-, and Z-axis matrix. The introduction of the Z axis gives 3D laser cutters the ability to move vertically. This vertical movement is essential for cutting a wider range of materials, including reflective materials, to create more complex, three-dimensional components. 

3D laser cutters allow for fast production times, repeatable manufacturing processes, and a more cost-effective overall project. They're used by large-scale industries in the manufacturing of complex parts, crucial components, and unique products. The rapid turnaround time for 3D projects makes them an attractive addition to any business looking to make its mark in the metal fabrication industry.

2D Laser Cutting vs 3D Laser Cutting vs 3D Printing: Key Differences

The primary difference between 2D laser cutting and 3D laser cutting is that a 3D cutter can forge vertically. However, many ask how 3D printing compares to these two types of laser cutting. Simply put, laser cutters remove material layer by layer, while 3D printers create materials layer by layer. This makes a big difference in the overall production time of each project. Because many 3D printing projects are built more narrow than 3D cutting projects, oftentimes, their components must be cut and adhered to the project's surface. 

3D printers construct their fabrications by fusing powders made of the desired materials and building components from the bottom up. On the other hand, laser cutters use CO2 or solid-state lasers to melt away their workpiece materials. This fundamental difference has a significant impact on manufacturing cost. It is more expensive to obtain the metal powder necessary for a 3D printer than the sheet metal used by a laser cutter. Further, the workbed of 2D and 3D laser cutters can be vastly larger than the work surface of 3D laser printers, so they have a more comprehensive range of applications. 

How Does the 3D Laser Cutting Process Work?

Like 2D laser cutters, 3D cutters harness laser power to vaporize layers of materials to form a desired shape or design. However, the process is far more complex than that. Because the laser head must rotate to stay perpendicular to the three-dimensional workpiece, it requires a specialized rotary head that recognizes the exact shape of the piece on which it is cutting. By adapting to the unique form of each component and maintaining a specific distance from those components, a 3D laser cutter can manufacture complex parts quickly with a high degree of precision and accuracy.

Role of Software and Material Type

The software used in 3D laser cutting is a crucial component of the overall end result. The unique cutting sequences and varied surfaces of a 3D laser cutting project demand a platform that can support the multifaceted performance of 3D laser cutting machines. Software for 3D laser cutters can make their rapid production time even faster and cut costs by calculating materials needed and by accurately estimating time of completion. 

The material type used makes a significant impact as well. Thicker materials may take longer to forge than thinner materials. Also, how hard a workpiece's material is will slow down production as well. These factors will make a difference in the various settings used within the laser cutting software. Although these settings can be saved, it is recommended that you test a small portion of every material before making that first cut to ensure that it has the desired effect. 

Range of 3D Laser Cutting Applications

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3D laser cutting applications broadly include the use of sheet metals and its various implementations. Industries that utilize 3D laser cutting include:

  • Aerospace 
  • Textiles
  • Medical equipment
  • Kitchenware
  • Elevator
  • Automobiles
  • Mechanical tools
  • Food processing 

The materials that work well with 3D laser cutting include:

  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum
  • Aluminum alloys
  • Gold
  • Titanium
  • Silver
  • Copper
  • Carbon steel

Benefits of 3D Laser-Cutting Machines

3D laser cutting machines are incredibly adaptable. They have the flexibility to adjust rapidly to the cutting functions required for workpieces of various shapes and sizes. 3D laser cutting services are generally more cost-effective than traditional methods. You save money because the materials can forgo the lengthy processes of trimming and punching. Manufacturing time is slashed by shortening protocols and procedures, which makes the production rates vastly more expedient.

The Best Technology for Your 3D Laser Cutting Projects

OMTech leads the pack in the production and services of laser cutter machines and laser cutting accessories. Our lines of fiber laser cutters and CO2 laser cutters have been used extensively by hobbyists and manufacturing professionals alike. Our large community of supportive laser enthusiasts will inspire you to create the laser projects of your dreams, join our OMTech Facebook Group to share your ideas, problems and be a part of our laser community. Visit our website today to see how we can move forward in this exciting industry together.