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Standard metal cutting processes: laser cutting vs. metal stamping

Laser manufacturing activities currently include cutting, welding, heat treating, cladding, vapor deposition, engraving, scribing, trimming, annealing, and shock hardening. Laser manufacturing processes compete both technically and economically with conventional and nonconventional manufacturing processes such as mechanical and thermal machining, arc welding, electrochemical, and electric discharge machining (EDM), abrasive water jet cutting, plasma cutting, and flame cutting.

Metal stamping is a forming process that presses a metal blank with a powerful die into a predetermined desired shape (or pattern). The metal formed must be ductile (malleable) enough to bend into shape without breaking. Deep drawn metal stamping draws the metal shape through progressive passes through the stamping die to produce long narrow final metal stampings.

The table that follows contains a comparison of metal cutting using the CO2 laser cutting process and metal stamping process in industrial material processing.

Fundamental process differences

Subject

CO2 laser

Metal Stamping

Method of imparting energy

Light 10.6 µm (far infrared range)

Punch and die

Source of energy

Gas laser

AC motor

How energy is transmitted

Beam guided by mirrors (flying optics); fiber-transmission not
feasible for CO2 laser

Flywheel

How cut material is expelled

Gas jet, plus additional gas expels material

Punch through die

Distance between nozzle and material and maximum permissable tolerance

Approximately 0.2" ± 0.004", distance sensor, regulation and Z-axis necessary

0.020" to 0.300" depending on the material thickness

Physical machine set-up

Laser source always located inside machine

Need to set up required punch and die

Range of table sizes

8' x 4' to 20' x 6.5'

Not applicable to this process

Typical beam output at the workpiece

1500 to 2600 Watts

Not applicable to this process


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Typical process applications and uses

Subject

CO2 laser

Metal stamping

Typical process uses

Cutting, drilling, engraving, ablation, structuring, welding

Punching

3D material cutting

Difficult due to rigid beam guidance and the regulation of distance

Not applicable to this process

Materials able to be cut by the process

All metals (excluding highly reflective metals), all plastics, glass, and wood can be cut

All metals can be stamped depending on the machinery and press tonnage

Material combinations

Materials with different melting points can barely be cut

Not recommended

Sandwich structures with cavities

This is not possible with a CO2 laser

Not possible for this process

Cutting materials with liminted or impaired access

Rarely possible due to small distance and the large laser cutting head

Not possible

Properties of the cut material which influence processing

Absorption characteristics of material at 10.6 µm

Material hardness is a key factor

Material thickness at which cutting or processing is economical

~0.12" to 0.4" depending on material

0.010" to 0.187"

Common applications for this process

Cutting of flat sheet steel of medium thickness for sheet metal processing

Punching of flat sheet of lesser thickness and drawing applications


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Initial investment and average operating costs

Subject

CO2 laser

Metal stamping

Initial capital investment required

$300,000 with a 20 kW pump, and a 6.5' x 4' table

$50,000 to $300,000

Parts that will wear out

Protective glass, gas
nozzles, plus both dust and the particle filters

Punch and die wear plus the need for regular sharpening

Average energy consumption of complete cutting system

Assume a 1500 Watt CO2 laser:

Electrical power use:
24-40 kW

Laser gas (CO2, N2, He):
2-16 l/h

Cutting gas (O2, N2):
500-2000 l/h

10 hp motor

Electrical power use:
9 kW


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Precision of process

Subject

CO2 laser

Plasma cutting

Minimum size of the cutting slit

0.006", depending on cutting speed

0.002"

Cut surface appearance

Cut surface will show a striated structure

The cut surface will show a sheared edge

Degree of cut edges to completely parallel

Good; occasionally will demonstrate conical edges

Good

Processing tolerance

Approximately 0.002"

Approximately 0.002"

Degree of burring on the cut

Only partial burring occurs

Only partial burring occurs

Thermal stress of material

Deformation, tempering and structural changes may occur in the material

Deformation on thinner materials

Forces acting on material in direction of gas or water jet during processing

Gas pressure poses
problems with thin
workpieces, distance
cannot be maintained

Not applicable to this process


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Safety considerations and operating environment

Subject

CO2 laser

Metal stamping

Personal safety
equipment requirements

Laser protection safety glasses are not absolutely necessary

Protective glasses and ear protection near presses

Production of smoke and dust during processing

Does occur; plastics and some metal alloys may produce toxic gases

Occurs, due to continuous stamping motion creating dust

Noise pollution and danger

Very low

Very high

Machine cleaning requirements due to process mess

Low clean up

Low clean up

Cutting waste produced by the process

Cutting waste is mainly in the form of dust requiring vacuum extraction and filtering

Large amounts of metal cutting waste result from stamping


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