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The gases used to generate the laser beam and expel the molten metal out of the cut kerf are important consumables during laser operations. They can prolong the lifetime of optical components, increase the cutting speed and improve the cutting quality. Using cutting gases properly can thus contribute to more profitable laser operations.
The first lasers used for metal cutting and welding were carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers. They use carbon dioxide gas – mixed with helium and nitrogen – to generate the laser radiation. This is produced by means of an electrical discharge in the gas, whereby the carbon dioxide molecules emit the laser radiation and the nitrogen and helium contribute to a stable and efficient process. With a wavelength of 10.6 micrometres, the laser beam is not visible. In order to bring the laser beam to the focus lens in the cutting head, it needs to be transmitted by flight tubes purged with a clean dry gas or air, using specially coated and cooled mirrors which need to be carefully aligned. The wavelength of the CO2 laser means it can cut most metals except those that have a very high reflectivity in the infrared spectrum, such as gold and copper.
Solid-state lasers include fibre and disc lasers. First developed at the end of the 20th century for telecommunications purposes, fibre lasers have since been scaled up tremendously to rival and exceed CO2 lasers in terms of power. Several variants, such as disc lasers, have also been developed. Fibre lasers have no moving parts and require no laser resonator gas. With a much shorter wavelength than CO2 lasers, at around 1 micron, fibre lasers are just outside the visible range. This shorter wavelength makes them ideal for 3D cutting and welding applications as flight tubes and mirrors are not required. They can also cut thin mild and stainless steels much more efficiently than CO2 lasers. However, they produce poor quality edges when cutting thick sheets.
Getting it Right
With our global delivery capabilities, we are a leading supplier of laser and process gases – specialty premixed LASERMIX® laser gas mixtures included – to customers around the world. We can help you choose the laser and cutting gases and supply solutions that best fit your laser cutting needs.
Our LASERLINE® series unites our in-depth laser cutting know-how with our long-standing experience in the delivery of fully integrated laser solutions. Guaranteed to meet your purity and reliability needs, our offering extends from process consulting through gas storage and supply technologies to all-round technical support. The result is a state-of-the-art, all-inclusive supply and service package that ensures best performance, maximum efficiency and protection of investments in expensive laser equipment.