A mainstay of today’s metal fabrication industry, computer numerical control, or CNC technology, goes back to the 1940s when the first machines emerged. Early CNC machines used punched tape, which was then commonly used in telecommunications and data storage, to direct the machines’ actions.
Today, CNC machines have multiple built-in tools, including drills, taps, and milling tools, which are programmed for automated production. The simplest machines move in one or two axes, while more advanced systems feature five-axis technology. Many are capable of rotational motion and even flipping parts automatically so material can be cut on all sides with no manual intervention.
Despite their many capabilities, CNC machines have their drawbacks including a significant investment for specialized equipment and sizes. Additionally, if an aluminum profile requires several machined features, heavy tooling investments and longer production time make CNC machine use costly.
Introducing Laser Beam Machining Technology
Today, new laser machining technology can replace the need for multiple processing actions, including cutting, machining, drilling, and punching, with a single laser operation. These lasers can also be used to cut intricate shapes and features that can’t be made with other methods, or that require extensive CNC cycle times or multiple punch tooling investments.
The method has quickly gained popularity and become the industry standard for many industrial sectors, including automotive, metalworking, aerospace, and microelectronics. Here’s why:
Benefits of Laser Machining
Laser machines do not require an exchange of tools for each separate operation. The same setup is suitable for cutting a lot of different shapes, including intricate cuts, within the same material thickness. As a result, production times can be considerably shorter.
Unlike competing techniques, laser cutting can produce highly complex geometries with better precision and excellent levels of tolerance. With a positioning accuracy of +/-0.1 mm, laser cutting enables high precision to be achieved without any post-treatment.
With a repeat accuracy of +/- 0.05 mm, laser machines ensure parts are near replicas of each other.
Speed Laser Cutter in Action
Laser cutting machines cut extruded aluminum shapes and feature faster than traditional CNC machines dramatically reducing processing time. This is especially true for more complex cuts. When compared to other thermal cutting methods like plasma or flame cutting, a laser is far faster (up to a thickness of 10 mm). The exact advantage point, however, boils down to the power of the laser itself.
Laser machines guarantee excellent performance whenever clean cuts and smoother edge finishes are needed, as the highly focused beam can hold tight tolerances around the desired cutting region. And, since a laser’s heat affected zone (HAZ) is relatively small, the material being worked is less likely to warp or distort. A smaller HAZ area results in more predictable and reliable parts.
While an experienced machine operator still plays a role in the final quality, contemporary laser machinery is highly automated requiring little need for manual labor. In addition, many machines come with feeding systems for extrusions up to 30-feet long and follow-up conveyors to further reduce the need for physical handling.
In the case of laser cutting, only the beam makes contact with the material. Therefore, there is no mechanical friction to cause wear and tear. Additionally, since the materials cut with lasers typically do not require additional cleanup, such as deburring, production times can be shorter.
Laser cutting is able to handle virtually everything thrown its way, whether cutting steel, nickel, aluminum, or brass. Lasers are also used for cutting reflective metals and non-metallic materials, including polymers, rubber, and plastics.
Laser beam machines easily adapt to ever-changing manufacturing demands, both in terms of production volume and market needs. And, machines can be set up and repurposed for specific needs much faster than traditional CNC processes.
Interested in Learning More?
When fabrication of high-volume, uniform wall-thickness aluminum extrusions is required, Vitex Extrusion and laser cutting may be the solution. Contact us today to discover how laser machining technology could be used for your extruded aluminum parts and profiles.