ULS Blog

Using Your Material Requirements to Select a Laser System Configuration

Plastic Materials
January 2018

Laser material processing affords the use of many materials, including plastics, thin films, paper, wood, metals, adhesives, glass, foams, and fabrics to name a few.

Although laser systems offer broad flexibility in processing materials, there are some questions to consider to make sure your system has the proper configuration to meet your material requirements:

Types of Materials

What types of materials will you be using? Think about the materials you use now or would like to use in the future. The effects produced by laser energy interacting with a material strongly depend upon the wavelength and power level of the laser and the absorption characteristics of a material.

Wavelengths for laser material processing are 10.6 and 9.3 micron produced by CO2 lasers and 1.06 micron produced by fiber lasers. A range of power levels is available for each laser type to optimize the laser energy-material interaction. However, the absorption characteristics of a material and the desired results greatly influence the selection of the laser type and power level. Therefore, knowing what materials you want to laser process will help you select the best wavelength(s) for your laser system – 10.6 (CO2), 9.3 (CO2), 1.06 (Fiber) or combination of wavelengths and power level.

Explore compatible materials in the ULS Materials Library. If you don’t see your material or have a question about a material, contact us.

Material Shape and Size

What are the dimensions of the materials? The laser system you select should have a laser processing area that will accommodate the dimensions of your materials, parts, or products. If using raw material, most materials will come in sheets or rolls. Material sheets and rolls in many cases can be cut to a size that fits within a laser system. If you are looking to laser process 3-dimensional objects that are spherical, cylindrical, square, or oddly-shaped, this is important to know in order to determine the Z-axis depth or additional components (rotary fixture, Pass-through with Class 4 Conversion Module, camera registration, etc.) your system will need to accommodate these objects.

More Teflon Examples

Material Processes

Which laser processes do I plan to use on each material? Laser material processing uses laser energy to modify the shape or appearance of a material. This method of material modification provides a number of advantages, such as the ability to quickly change designs, produce products without the need for retooling, and improve the quality of finished products. For all laser processes that can be applied to a material, the energy of a laser beam interacts with the material to transform it in some way. Each transformation (or laser process such as laser cutting, laser ablation, laser surface modification, etc.) is optimized by precisely controlling the wavelength, power, duty cycle, and pulse spacing of the laser beam.

Understanding what you want to accomplish with your materials will not only determine the power level and wavelength you’ll need, it will also help determine the components you may need to achieve the best result with laser processing (i.e. type of lens), properly support the material (i.e., cutting table, pin table, rotary fixture), or minimize surface contamination of dust and debris or byproducts during laser processing (i.e. gas assist, air filtration).

It is difficult to know everything you want to do upfront and most often laser system users find new ways to use a laser system after they begin to use it regularly. When selecting a laser system, choose one that will give you the broadest system configuration flexibility to adapt to your material needs now and can grow with you in the future.