Do you have a sheet metal prototype? Do you know about the laser cutting method you need to make your prototype?

The following is an overview of laser cutting, an explanation of the forms of laser cutting, and the benefits of laser cutting in sheet metal prototyping. Laser cutting is particularly useful in the aerospace industry because of its ability to produce clean cutting edges. The laser cutter uses a high-powered laser to cut different materials.

Laser cutters are an ingenious instrument for cutting different types of materials. Also, laser cutting in sheet metal prototyping enables quicker turnaround, the development of intricate designs, shapes, and accurate measurements that were not possible 40-50 or even 10-20 years ago. Today’s laser cutting technology can take a CAD database template and turn it into sheet metal software with almost no human effort and minimal human error.

In the field of innovation and design, prototyping is incredibly necessary. Creating product prototypes provides an opportunity to evaluate an object’s functionality and a chance to explore space for improvement. However, the art of making successful prototypes is one that has only increased efficiency and quality with the advent of laser cutting.

But why does this technology make such a big difference? Let’s take a look at the dynamics of laser cutting and how it has revolutionized prototype production, as well as the advantages of using such technology to produce examples of your next big product.

Different Forms of Laser Cutting

CO2 and Fiber lasers are the primary types of laser cutting technology. High accuracy and ease of control make the CO2 laser popular, and it is the most widely used—electricity fuels the CO2 gas beam to cut the material. CO2 lasers are ideally suited to materials like plastic and glass. However, the fiber laser is more concentrated and accurate than the CO2 laser. The fiber laser beam is even more efficient by using the same amount of electricity to fuel it.

Laser cutting is a versatile tool that spreads across various materials such as stone, glass, wood, plastic, and sheet metal. A fiber laser uses glass fiber to maximize the potential of a seed laser. The effect is a laser that is both efficient and effective compared to a CO2 laser. The fiber laser is used for metals due to its wavelength absorption.

How is Laser Cutting Used to Produce Prototype Parts?

3D laser cutting and 3D printers are revolutionizing the prototype world. It is mainly because laser cutting is a precise art, and one with little room for error, thanks to Computer-Aided Design (CAD)/Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM) that made this possible.

The CAD / CAM program operates by instructing the laser cutter to execute specific movements. These motions are so accurate because CAD allows the user to bring their exact measurements into the program and then communicate the concept to the laser cutting machine. Once the data is entered, there is no need for human oversight—independence and speed of cutting means that the development of a prototype is instantly much easier.

Additionally, since the machine itself interprets the laser software leaving little room for human error – saving both time and money. Accuracy and speed are both desirable qualities for a computer when it comes to prototyping, which is why laser cutting is thriving in this field.

Laser cutting prototypes are used in several industries from universities to aerospace; any product requiring precise cutting methods will make the most of this versatile technology. Additionally, producing your prototype with laser cutting technology ensures that it looks exactly as you’ve designed it using CAD software. 

Known for its customizing features, lasers make it possible for prototype parts, components, and engineering research models to be produced quickly and relatively cheaply. As such, laser cutting and engraving now play an increasingly important role in the rapid production of prototypes offering designers, suppliers, manufacturers, and others a snapshot of the product in progress that closely resembles the final product.

Such designs also contain complex components that are possibly cost-prohibitive to produce using conventional subtractive machining methods, such as milling, punching, and grinding.

Advantages of Laser Cutting in Prototypes Using Metal

There are many benefits to using laser cutting with sheet metal parts. Laser cutters produce more complex patterns and finished edges. However, laser cutting in sheet metal prototyping enables quick response to changes, rapid prototyping, shortening of lead times, and saves short-run costs.

The laser’s small size allows for more innovative and intricate designs than is possible with other cutting methods. Laser cutting provides a more polished edge, removing the need to buff off rough edges and burrs. It requires less maintenance because there are no blades that need to be sharpened or replaced. Lasers can work without supervision for extended periods of time.

The fact that laser cutters do not need retooling or modification allows for faster changes in the number of parts to be made. It is one of the key reasons why laser cutters are a successful choice for sheet metal prototyping.

Most of the CO2 lasers are used for cutting. However, fiber laser cutting technology is becoming more popular with aerospace manufacturers. While CO2 lasers are still in use, fiber lasers are likely to become common in the future. As lasers get smaller and more energy-efficient, manufacturers will produce more products and services at a faster rate.

The development of a prototype is essential for designers trying to get a product off the ground. If investors have a physical representation of your work – they are more likely to have confidence in your product. The rapid turnaround provided by laser cutting means that you can produce accurate and impressive prototypes to help you secure funding, get your project up and running even faster.  

Laser Cutting Machine Cutting Out Parts For A Prototype

Laser Cutting and Additive Manufacturing

In the rapid prototyping space, laser cutting is often used in combination with additive manufacturing. Both methods  can be low-volume, automated production techniques that can  process the same workpieces. The filament materials of widely used 3D-type filament printers can emit poisonous fumes when exposed to laser fire. Laser cutting usually works with flat RP materials, while 3D printers may create complex 3D geometries.

Simultaneously, assembly is often needed after laser cutting to build a model or prototype, while assembly needs for 3D-printed models are low depending on the printer envelope and part design.

However, laser cutters are usually more flexible than 3D printers and can work with substrates available in hardware stores, whereas 3D printers need polymer filaments that are frequently ordered. These filaments are often brand-exclusive, costly, and have reduced tensile strength.

The laser cutter is best suited to scale and produce finished items but at a low volume. Despite the apparent differences, there can be a combination between the two techniques to form a single, final prototype.   

Added Benefits of Laser Cutting

While there are various ways in which sheet metal can be formed and cut, few are as accurate, efficient, and cost-effective as laser cutting. The technology involved in laser cutting is so powerful that the continuation and development of its future capabilities are inevitable. There are several reasons why using laser cutting is the preferred approach when designing a sheet metal prototype.

  • Precision: Since the laser has an overall size of just a few micrometers, it enables precision in the processing.
  • Finished edges: Using a physical method such as a blade or cutting bits, cutting sheet metal could result in errors, such as roughness and burrs around the edges. For specific designs, Cut edges may need to be buffed or deburred. The use of a laser removes this problem.
  • Scalability: Laser cutting tools allow companies to cut as many or as few sheet metal prototypes as their customers need. These lasers also do not have to be calibrated or re-engineered to suit a specific object’s design.

Micron Laser Technology provides a line of laser cutting services and manufacturing solutions that can be used to cut a wide variety of materials. Can your rapid prototyping or manufactured products benefit from laser cutting?

Micron Laser specializes in accurate and fast laser cutting services for all of our customers. We’re still on Twitter @Micronlaser to help you stay up to date with all the latest news and trends in the laser cutting industry. Find out what our revolutionary technology can do for your business.