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What is a laser cutter?

Updated November 21, 2016

Laser cutters are being used more and more in today's work force due to the growth of technology. Since there is a greater demand for products made with laser cutters, small businesses and big manufacturing plants are replacing their mechanical cutting methods with laser cutters. With its high-powered laser beam and the opportunity to be used more, the laser cutter has become the credited source for cutting metallic materials.

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A laser cutter is simply an instrument that uses a laser to cut material. The laser beam is usually 0.2 millimetres in diameter at the cutting surface and is powered by 1,000 to 2,000 watts. The instrument consists of a sequence of mirrors that directs the laser beam onto the material to be cut.


Laser cutting can accompany the CNC/Turret process (process of a machine punching holes in material). The CNC/Turret procedure produces internal features, such as holes, whereas laser cutting adds external, complex features to materials. The laser cutter cuts in a form of electronic data from a CAD drawing (computer-aided design) to make flat-form parts of complexity. The laser cutter can profile parts after they have been punched by the CNC/Turret machine.

Laser-Cutting Materials

Lasers are typically made to cut through materials like carbon steel and stainless steels. Other metals like aluminium and copper alloys are difficult to cut through because of their ability to reflect the light, as well as taking in and conducting heat. More powerful lasers are required to cut through these types of metals.


When a laser cutter forms a hole in a metal, the entry diameter is larger than the exit diameter, which creates a slightly tapered hole. The lasers cut through material by melting it in the beam's path. Any materials (which are not necessarily metal) that are heat-treatable will get case-hardened around the cut edges. Usually, this is beneficial if the hardened edges allow the material to function in the fished product. But, if further machine operations are desired, like threading, then hardening can become a conflict.


There are several benefits that come from using a laser cutter rather than using a mechanical cutting tool. Using a laser cutter gives a fine tolerance to the finished item that has been cut. The beam of light from the laser does not wear out like a blade does, and the laser cuts more precisely than a mechanical blade. Laser cutting can also block out any risk of contamination on the cut item because there is no actual physical contact involved. A mechanical blade could bring cross-contamination to the item and the blade itself.

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About the Author

Carl Harper
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