Laser cutting produces a very thin kerf. A kerf is the width of the cut. Furthermore, a laser cutting machine can be computer controlled, so intricate shapes can be cut out. Despite its advantages, disadvantages in laser cutting do exist. Since researchers are always looking for new and better machining technologies, these disadvantages are discussed in scientific journals.
Researchers at Columbia University state that the thickness of the material affects the quality of the cut of a laser. For thin materials, a very thin kerf, about the size of a human hair, is possible with no problems. As the material to be cut becomes thicker, the cut becomes "sloppier." Because thicker materials heat up, the cut line itself starts to fill with dross. Dross is another term for molten metal slag. In effect, the cut chokes itself. The solution to this is to blow out the molten metal with high pressure gas. In effect, additional support equipment is required.
Researchers investigating water jet cutting at Michigan Technological University state that water jet cutting uses less energy than laser cutting. Water jet cutting was discovered in the 1930s but was refined to a science in 2010. A stream of water, about half the diameter of a human hair, is pumped up to about 50,000 psi, or pounds per square inch. Various abrasives can be mixed into the stream, making it more efficient. At those pressures, a variety of materials can be cut. An added advantage is that the kerf is smaller over a laser kerf, with no heat warping of the metals, as with lasers.
A laser burns the metal or other substances at a very high temperature. If plastics are cut, this instantly vaporises the substance in the kerf into gases. Researchers at the British Occupational Hygiene Society have discovered that this releases benzene and other hydrocarbons. One little cut may not produce enough to cause concern, but a large fabrication shop may produce significant amounts of pollutants. Another area identified by the society is surgical smoke. Smoke from surgery lasers produce burnt hydrocarbons and hydrogen cyanide. To a surgeon constantly exposed to smoke, this should be a concern.
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