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Steel Cutting Blog

 

If you’re passionate about metal cutting or just keen to learn more, you’ve landed in the right place. 

 

For over 38 years, Amber Steel has been at the forefront of metal cutting services, specializing in laser cutting, flame cutting, and plasma cutting. Our expertise has carved a niche in this cutting-edge industry, delivering precision and excellence across industrial projects big and small. 

 

In our blog, we’ll share a mix of useful tips, innovative applications, our thoughts on sustainability in steel cutting, and more. Expect stories from the cutting floor, insights into how our processes can streamline projects across industries, and a few lessons we’ve learned along the way. 

 

While we keep some of our trade secrets under wraps, this blog is designed to offer valuable nuggets of wisdom that you simply won't find anywhere else. Whether you’re a professional in the industry or someone fascinated by the possibilities of metal cutting, you'll find something of value here. 

 

So, stick with us as we delve into the finer points of metal work. We’re glad to share our insights and lead discussions that matter to our industry. 

 

VIEW RECENT BLOGS

 

New to Steel Cutting? Start with the Basics 

 

Explore our Steel Cutting Blog by Topic 

 

Aerospace 

How precision metal cutting propels the aerospace industry, from constructing lighter frames to enhancing aerodynamics. 

 

Automotive 

The role of advanced metal cutting in automotive manufacturing, driving innovations in vehicle design and efficiency. 

 

Flame Cutting 

All about the robust and versatile process of flame cutting, ideal for tackling thicker metals with precision and ease. 

 

Furniture 

Discover the art of crafting metal furniture, where cutting techniques meet design to create both functional and aesthetic pieces. 

 

How It Works 

A behind-the-scenes look at the mechanics of metal cutting technologies and the science that makes them tick. 

 

Laser Cutting 

Laser cutting is where extreme precision meets efficiency, allowing for intricate designs and clean finishes. 

 

Medical Devices 

The critical role of precise steel cutting in developing reliable and intricate medical devices. 

 

Oil and Gas 

How steel cutting supports the oil and gas industry with components that withstand extreme environments and pressures. 

 

Plasma Cutting 

Known for its speed and versatility, plasma cutting slices through conductive metals with hot plasma. 

 

Safety 

Safety first! Tips and insights on maintaining a safe environment while handling powerful metal cutting equipment. 

 

Structural Steel Fabrication 

The backbone of construction, where steel fabrication and cutting technologies create frameworks that shape skylines. 

 

Sustainability 

A look at sustainability in metal cutting, focusing on practices that reduce waste and conserve energy to protect our planet. 

 

Fiber vs. CO2 Lasers: Choosing the Right Laser for Steel Cutting

Laser cutting machine

 

Laser cutting machines combine craftsmanship and technology to deliver precision, speed, and cost-efficiency for everything from electronics-related projects to manufacturing and automotive work. 

 

At Amber Steel, our laser cutting machines can cut between 0.5 and 25.4mm thick sheets, providing a wide range of options and applications.  

 

Our wide range of thickness-shearing capabilities means our clients can count on highly intricate, detailed work that doesn’t sacrifice too much in the way of speed and power. 

 

How do our laser cutting services offer so much versatility? For one, we have various types of laser cutters. You aren’t limited to one piece of machinery or technology when you partner with Amber for your laser cutting needs. 

 

Laser cutting machines can generally be put into two categories: CO2 lasers and fiber lasers. Here, we’ll delve into the differences between CO2 and fiber laser cutting machines to give you an idea of how we decide which is best for your project. 

 

Contact us now to inquire about our laser cutting services. We’ll offer expert, industry-leading insights and align our services and cutting-edge tech with what’s dictated by the work and your objectives. 

 


 

 

How CO2 Lasers Work 

CO2 lasers trigger rapid photon emissions by inducing vibrations in carbon dioxide molecules. It applies an electric field across or along a tube filled with 10% to 20% N2 and CO2, respectively, and trace amounts of xenon and hydrogen. Helium fills out the remainder of the tube and acts a bit like a coolant, helping to stabilize energy levels and remove excess heat. 

 

The electric field causes a chain reaction inside the tube: the nitrogen (N2) molecules vibrate, which transfers energy to CO2 molecules, causing them to vibrate too. This process is a bit like pushing someone on a swing, where the energy from nitrogen gives CO2 some momentum. 

 

When CO2 molecules transition between vibrational energy states, they emit photons. This emission process is what generates laser light. 

 

The laser tube ends with two special mirrors called Brewster mirrors: one fully reflective and the other partially reflective. These mirrors help shape and direct the laser beam, with the partially reflective mirror allowing some light to pass as the laser beam. 

 

CO2 has two potential transitions due to its three vibrational modes, enabling the lasers to emit two primary laser light frequencies when it is built for it.  

 

CO2 lasers produce infrared energy. Despite being a lower-frequency form of light, it's very efficient at cutting materials due to its power and how it interacts with materials. 

 

 

How Fiber Lasers Work 

Fiber lasers are essentially advanced light amplifiers that use a special kind of fiber, infused with elements like ytterbium, to create a powerful and focused beam of light, perfect for cutting materials. 

 

The process begins with a pump source, typically a laser diode, which introduces light into the element- ‘doped’ fiber (which is a scientific term, however odd!) This optical fiber acts as the amplifier, absorbing the light from the pump source and energizing the electrons within the elements. As these electrons return to their ground state, they emit photons, contributing to the light amplification. 

 

To make sure the light stays on track and gets amplified just right, the fiber is wrapped in a special cladding that reflects the light back into the core where the magic happens. 

 

Inside the laser, there are also fiber Bragg gratings, which are like selective mirrors that bounce back only the light of specific wavelengths, making the laser light very pure and focused. 

 

For cutting, the laser uses a specific kind of light (usually around 1064 nm wavelength), ideal for slicing through materials. 

 

Once the light is perfectly amplified and focused, it exits the laser through a special setup that keeps it all moving in the same direction, then it passes through a lens that concentrates the beam down to a pinpoint. This focused beam is what the cutting does, capable of making precise and clean cuts in various materials. 

 

 

Laser cutting machine.

 

Differences Between CO2 and Fiber Lasers 

Now, let's see how CO2 lasers and fiber lasers differ in terms of laser cutting.  

 

What Materials are CO2 Lasers Best Suited to Cut? 

Nonmetallic and nonferrous materials are most suited to CO2 laser cutting machines, including: 

 

  • Melamine 

  • Acrylic 

  • Paper 

  • Mother of pearl 

  • Plastic 

  • Mylar 

  • Rubber 

  • Non-resin 

  • Cloth 

  • Corian® 

  • Delrin® (POM) 

  • Dense card 

  • Plywood 

  • Leather 

  • Fiberglass 

  • Fabric 

 

What Materials are Fiber Lasers Best Suited to Cut? 

Fiber lasers can be applied to most materials, proving much less specific in this area than its CO2 counterpart. They can seamlessly cut through metals (including stainless steel and other highly reflective types), POM, glass, dense card, foams, and acrylic. 

 

They perform best when restricted to 20 mm cuts or below. 

 

How Powerful are CO2 Lasers? 

CO2 lasers go up to 100 kW in power but can also be designed for only a few dozen watts. 

 

Unless the generated beams are incredibly long, high-powered devices produce beams of a lower quality. This yields 5% to 10% efficiency, which is very low. Thus, cooling capacities are crucial for larger devices, increasing their size further. 

 

How Powerful are Fiber Lasers? 

Fiber lasers (specifically, low-power ytterbium-doped ones) can have the same power ranges as their CO2 counterparts. However, their power ceiling is much higher at 1 MW, seen in much larger and more costly devices. 

 

There’s a limited need for cooling for smaller devices due to a sky-high 90% operational efficiency. 

 

What Industries Typically Use CO2 Lasers? 

CO2 lasers have versatile uses across many industries, including communications, military, medical, and general manufacturing.  

 

Generally, these lasers are best suited to metal plates of 10-20 mm-plus. If your project requires cutting 100mm of steel plate, many laser cutting operators and service providers can add oxygen to assist, speeding up the process. Time is money, after all.  

 

What Industries Typically Use Fiber Lasers? 

High-value and high-precision market sectors typically call for fiber lasers. This includes electronics, automotive, material processing, medical, telecommunications, etc. 

 

Fiber laser cutters perform at their best when dealing with reflective metals (e.g., aluminum, brass, and titanium, although they can cut through most materials.  

 

What are the Benefits of CO2 Lasers? 

The finish of CO2 lasers is a significant benefit, yielding superior quality edges on aluminum and plate stainless workpieces.  

 

CO2 lasers are also very versatile. They can be used to cut non-metals and metals alike.  

 

What are the Benefits of Fiber Lasers? 

Considering the efficiency of fiber lasers, the cost of technician services has grown increasingly affordable over the years.  

 

The operating costs are low due to the resonator not requiring gas and minimal cooling requirements. In fact, fiber lasers require 1/3rd the power of CO2 lasers. There’s also less maintenance required. 

 

Lower operations costs and less maintenance likely mean less money spent on labour when you pay for related services. 

 

Fiber lasers work rapidly compared to CO2, especially when cutting thin materials.  

 

Which Type of Laser is Better for Laser Cutting? 

Fiber lasers generally perform superior cuts over CO2. 

 

Does that mean selecting fiber cutting over CO2 for your project? Not necessarily. It depends on the parameters of your project.  

 

After all, the lower performance of CO2 could mean the upfront investment for the related laser cutting services could better fit more limited budgets. Also, your project might not demand those levels of optimal performance. 

 

Some precision projects will demand high performance and top-quality cuts. Thus, fiber lasers might be the only option.  

 

However, there are projects where you don’t necessarily have to fork out the upfront investment because the scale and workload don’t demand it. Perhaps CO2 is the superior and more economical option in these instances. 

 

The work being done, your budget, and your overall project objectives will dictate the best choice of laser cutter. It’s all about fitting the equipment and technology with the project's needs. 

 

 

Ask the Laser Cutting Experts 

While we’ve done our best to explain the differences between fiber and CO2 laser cutters, we didn’t have the benefit of knowing the specificities of your project before writing it. Each project is unique, and we always work with you to determine the best approach. 

 

At Amber Steel, we’ve provided services across all industries that call for laser cutting and have a keen knowledge of all factors involved. We analyze even the smallest details to determine the cutting method that will yield optimal results. 

 

We’ll work within your specified parameters and cater our solutions to a plan we design together.  

 

Amber Steel’s specialized team of experts and state-of-the-art technologies enable us to produce top-tier results for our clients, no matter their project’s scale and complexity. We’ll be there from the initial stages to final production, focused on delivering unparalleled quality and unabashed excellence.  

 

From precision-cut designs to specialized fabrication and custom metal creations, Amber Steel is committed to exceeding your expectations. Contact us today to learn more. 

 

 

 

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