Over a decade ago, the laser cutting industry was dominated by CO2 and YAG technology. Today most of these processes have been replaced with fiber lasers, and there are solid reasons behind this transition. Innovations simply work better in every field, and the sheet metal industry is no exception. We leave you with seven strong arguments why fiber lasers have taken over metal processing shops around the world.
1. Lower energy consumption
Fiber lasers need up to 50% less electricity than CO2 lasers due to their simpler, more efficient design. Just the fact that a CO2 laser consumes more energy while on standby than a fiber laser does while cutting should make the point. And who doesn't want to pay half the electric bill?
2. Lower operating and maintenance costs
CO2 lasers require a vacuum, pump, and turbine to generate the light beam. They also need pressure regulation systems, resonator gases, and mirrors to bounce the light to the cutting head. These mirrors need to be regularly cleaned and replaced, plus they produce a considerable amount of heat which calls for complex cooling systems.
On the other hand, fiber lasers have very few moving parts that rarely require servicing; they are completely sealed, so they don't need pressure regulation and are less vulnerable to external conditions. Fiber optic cables are mirror-free, so cooling requirements are minimal. A simpler and more efficient construction, fewer components and consumables, and less heat generation translate into lower operating and maintenance costs.
3. Higher energy efficiency
CO2 lasers are gas-based systems. For them to produce light, high voltages need to pass through gas-filled tubes, increasing the energy in gas particles and thus creating photons. In fiber lasers, laser diodes from the power source transform electricity directly into light and use a solid-state medium (optical fiber) instead of an active gain medium (CO2) to generate the laser beam. Simply put, fiber lasers win by far on energy efficiency with a 30-50% power conversion rate vs. the 10-15% achieved by CO2 lasers. Higher energy efficiency means reduced electrical expenses.
4. More versatility
CO2 lasers can't cut through reflective materials such as copper, brass, and bronze because the beam reflected by the metal may bounce back into the laser lens and mirrors, causing significant damage and potentially breaking the machine. With no mirrors or delicate lenses added to their narrow wavelength range, fiber lasers can cut through any metal, including highly reflective ones, at incredible speeds without energy loss or equipment damage. The notion that fiber lasers can only cut thin materials is a tale of the past. Today a 12kW fiber laser can cut mild steel as thick as 60mm, while a 20 or 20kW machine can work with up to 100mm of the same material.
5. More precision
The wavelength of the fiber laser is 1 micrometer as opposed to 10.7 micrometers with CO2 lasers, meaning that the cutting power is focused on a much smaller area, achieving a much higher energy density. Due to the focused narrow beam, fiber lasers are incredibly accurate, even in complex designs. Also, because there's no contact with the material and the heat-influenced area is so small, the cut can be kept smooth, without burr, roughness, or thermal deformation. Thanks to advanced motion dynamics, a fiber laser can cut intricate details at ultra-high speeds, decelerating into and accelerating out of curves lightning-fast without sacrificing quality or precision.
6. More power and speed
Eagle's most powerful fiber laser machines feature up to 30kW of power, and figures will only keep increasing. When it comes to efficient part-production, power and acceleration combined translate into increased cutting speed which is why the acceleration capabilities of fiber lasers are crucial. Fiber lasers also have a shorter wavelength than CO2 lasers, meaning that the cutting power focuses on a much smaller area. Higher energy density enables faster cutting with the same laser power—the faster the cutting, the more parts per hour, and therefore the more profit.
7. Reduced environmental footprint
CO2 lasers have prolonged power-up times, so they're usually kept running continuously, resulting in unnecessary electricity consumption. Fiber laser machines can hibernate and power up instantly, saving valuable energy. They are also more compact, providing more productivity in a smaller surface area, which can be critical when floor space is at a premium. The fact that they're so accurate and can be programmed to make the absolute most of each sheet also means fewer errors and less scrap. Having fewer components and consumables, they produce fewer waste materials than CO2 machines. Lower energy consumption, less floor space, minimal waste, and higher energy efficiency reduce their environmental impact.