Laser cutting is a process that utilises a focused laser beam to cut through or engrave materials with high accuracy. It has gained widespread popularity across various industries due to its versatility, precision, and efficiency. The technology has evolved significantly since its inception, making it a crucial tool for cutting and engraving a wide range of materials, including leather, plastics, wood, and more.
Laser cutting is used in a range of industries such as manufacturing, automotive, aerospace, electronics, corporate gifting, and even in the arts. The adaptability of a laser cutter makes it an invaluable tool in numerous creative and industrial fields.
As mentioned you can cut and engrave on a large selection of materials, but it is important to choose appropriate laser-cutting materials.
Selecting the appropriate materials is important for:
Safety: Certain materials emit hazardous fumes or produce harmful by-products when subjected to laser cutting. For instance, laser-cutting plastic materials containing PVC can release chlorine gas, which is extremely dangerous.
They are ideal for DIY projects and crafting, on-the-go labelling for small businesses, and quick and portable event printing. They don’t work so well for high-volume printing or precision photo printing.
Machine Longevity: Inappropriate materials can cause excessive wear and tear on your laser cutting machine. Some materials may reflect or absorb the laser energy differently, leading to damage or reduced efficiency of your machine over time. Rusting of the machine can occur when chlorine gas is emitted.
Quality of Cut: Different materials have varying responses to laser cutting, affecting the quality of the finished product. Some materials may result in a cleaner cut with less discolouration, while others may produce rough edges or undesirable surface effects.
Process Efficiency: The choice of laser-cutting materials influences the efficiency of the process. Some materials may require higher power settings or slower cutting speeds, affecting production rates.
Safe Materials for Laser Cutting
You might be asking, “What materials can a laser cutter cut safely?”, well there are plenty of materials to choose from and here are a few materials that are safe for laser cutting with your laser-cutting machine from MaxLaser.
Numerous types of wood are suitable for laser cutting due to their varying densities and compositions. Some commonly used woods for laser cutting include:
- MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard)
It’s essential to consider the thickness of the wood and adjust laser power and cutting speed accordingly to achieve the desired results.
Many plastics can be laser cut, but it’s crucial to avoid materials that emit toxic fumes such as PVC. Common plastics suitable for laser cutting include:
- Acrylic (PMMA)
- Delrin (Acetal)
When working with plastics, ensure proper ventilation to avoid inhaling any fumes generated during the laser cutting process.
Fabrics and Papers
Certain fabrics and papers are suitable for laser cutting, but precautions must be taken to avoid fires. Suitable materials include:
When working with fabrics and papers, it’s important to:
- Monitor the cutting process closely.
- Use appropriate ventilation to remove any smoke or fumes.
- Have fire extinguishing equipment readily available.
- Conduct test cuts to determine the optimal laser settings for the specific material.
- Clean your exhuast blower & piping once a month to allow for better ventilation.
Safety Measures and Best Practices
Here are some general safety guidelines that you can follow when laser-cutting materials.
- Ventilation and Fume Extraction
- Ensure that the laser cutting area is well-ventilated to minimise the accumulation of smoke and fumes.
- Use a reliable fume extraction system to remove airborne particles and fumes generated during the laser cutting process. This system helps in preventing the inhalation of potentially harmful substances.
- Protective Equipment
- Operators should wear appropriate PPE, including safety glasses or goggles to protect their eyes from the laser beam and any potential debris.
- Material Compatibility
- Choose materials that are known to be safe for laser cutting, as certain materials can release toxic fumes or pose other hazards. Refer to material safety data sheets (MSDS) when in doubt.
- Correct Laser Settings
- Adjust the laser power, cutting speed, and focus settings based on the specific material being used. Using incorrect settings can lead to poor cutting results, increased fire risk, or damage to your laser machine.
- Before starting a full-scale project, perform test cuts on a small sample of the material to determine the optimal laser settings. This helps in achieving the desired cut quality and avoiding potential issues.
- Fire Safety
- Implement fire prevention measures, especially when working with flammable materials like certain plastics, fabrics, or papers. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby and ensure that everyone is trained on its proper use.
- Machine Maintenance
- Conduct regular inspections and maintenance of your laser-cutting machine. Ensure that all components, including the laser tube, optics, and ventilation system, are in good working condition.
- Regularly check and align the laser beam to maintain cutting precision and prevent any unintended effects.
- Emergency Procedures
- Communicate and practice emergency shutdown procedures. Everyone should know how to quickly and safely shut down the laser-cutting machine in case of an emergency.
Materials to be cautious of or to avoid when laser cutting
There are certain materials that you should be cautious of, or avoid cutting with a laser completely.
- PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): Laser-cutting PVC releases chlorine gas, a highly toxic substance. This gas poses severe health risks and can damage the laser-cutting equipment.
- Coated Carbon Fibre: Laser-cutting coated carbon fibre materials can release toxic gases and particles. The coatings often contain additives that are not suitable for laser cutting.
- Polystyrene Foam: Laser-cutting polystyrene foam can lead to melting, produce flammable gases, and release toxic fumes. The foam may catch fire during the cutting process.
- HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene): HDPE is known to melt easily, is flammable, and does not cut cleanly with a laser. It may leave melted residue on the cutting surface.
The above are just a few safety points that you should consider when choosing laser-cutting materials. With a laser-cutting machine, you can create some incredible products, and its precision and efficiency are amazing, just make sure that you are putting safety first.
Use materials that have proven to be compatible, wear safety gear, maintain your machine, and keep your workspace clean and hazard-free.
Check out the incredible laser-cutting machines available at MaxLaser, make sure to read the manufacturer’s guidelines carefully, and start experimenting safely.