More power = more profit, also in the laser cutting area?

Dynamic changes are taking place in the market for laser cutting machines. It is becoming increasingly clear within the industry that the power limits of other beam-type cutting technologies such as CO2 laser, plasma, and water jet do not restrict fiber laser. For example, 4 to 6kW of power was considered sufficient for CO2 laser cutters. More and more customers worldwide are achieving considerable success with fiber laser power of 10 - 15kW and now even 20kW.

Eagle laser cutting machines have led the way. Over the past 10 years, Eagle has pioneered 6, 8, 10, 12, 15 and now 20kW. This document explains fiber laser technology and illustrates its future.

Important side note: Laser cutting machines basically remove material by means of either flame cutting (oxygen process gas) or fusion cutting (nitrogen process gas).

Flame cutting with oxygen is only used on certain materials, usually mild steel, and is effective up to laser power of about 10kW; increasing the laser power does not necessarily increase productivity. Fusion cutting with nitrogen has no such limitations. This article concentrates on fusion cutting.

What is the definition of high-power laser technology?

Although there is no official definition, there is a good reason for drawing the limit at laser power of 8kW. The reason: Increasing the power when cutting thin sheet metal that is 1mm (.040”) thick or less does not increase the cutting speed – the material is not thick enough to absorb more energy.

Is high-power laser technology only suitable for cutting thick materials?

Without doubt, since increasing the power increases the maximum thickness capacity. Thickness of 60mm has been successfully processed using high-power laser technology. Although more power does enable thicker cutting, high-power lasers also have major benefits with sheet metal materials, provided that they are thicker than 1mm (.040”).

The main application area is up to 25 mm (1”). All of the advantages of high-power laser technology are exploited in an optimal way with these material thicknesses. Today we can safely say that additional power automatically means more productivity and reduced unit costs.

"Tower of Power" - Laser power provides productivity

It appears obvious that laser power equals productivity. The Tower of Power example explains just how true this is in concrete terms. A typical manufacturing part is selected:

Material: Mild steel St 37
Material thickness: 8 mm
Cutting length per part: 1975 mm (77.8”)
Total size: 210 x 287 mm (8.3 x 11.3”)

This example merely shows a small part of the complex world of laser cutting technology. Varying the material type, thickness, cut pattern, machine dynamic motion, and laser parameters will generate different results, but the trend will stay the same.

Technological effects

Increasing the laser power increases cutting speed in an almost linear way!
Power does not just mean more productivity, but also quality. For the majority of applications, increasing the power puts less heat into the material due to the increased cutting speed, which improves the edge sharpness.

Economic effect

Faster cutting speed means shorter production times and more productivity per hour.

As the power increases, the number of units produced per hour also increases. In order to achieve this, you need a machine that provides high dynamic motion: speed and acceleration. The machine must be able to achieve fast cutting speeds (velocity) and carry out direction changes quickly (acceleration) so as not to restrict the productivity.
We used the EAGLE iNspire® laser cutting machine for this test, which has a top speed of 350 m/min and acceleration of 6G – as the world's fastest laser cutting machine, this is more than sufficient to ensure that the machine movement only has a minimal effect on the test results.

Of course, productivity has a tremendous influence on unit costs. In order to be able to determine the unit costs, we have allocated the following hourly machine rate to the machine depending on the laser power.

The 100 EUR hourly rate has been selected as a typical cost for operating a 4kW laser. This is not the amount that a company would charge to perform work on the machine, it is the total operating cost. The total operating cost includes the machine operating cost, labor, overheads, and machine payments/depreciation. It is clear that as the power is increased, the machine throughput increases faster than the overall operating costs. The owner of the laser cutting machine has the opportunity to carry out more work with more profit with a high-power laser.
If you look at the percentages for the same data set, you can see that the owner of a 10kW machine can increase his production by 188% in comparison to an increase in the total operating cost of just 19% with the 4kW system.

What about the cost per part?

When you take all of the aspects of laser power, productivity and total operating cost into consideration, you end up with a graph like this. Power equals productivity, and also profit.
Anyone seeing this table for the first time is sceptical to begin with. That is OK. Take the time to have a good look. We would be delighted to help you to carry out a study of your specific parts and cost structure, and the result will be the same. If a laser machine is fully utilized, greater power will probably generate significantly higher profits.

Conclusion

And now back to the initial statement: Dynamic changes are taking place in the market for laser cutting machines. The change consists of an increase in laser power. Unlike many other cutting processes, a gradual increase in power has taken place in fiber lasers. Of course, beam delivery, cutting head technology, and machine tool design have to keep up with the power increase in order to ensure that fiber lasers maintain their reputation for reliability and low operating cost. As the pioneer of high-power laser technology and ultra-fast machine tool design, Eagle can help you to analyze your production to see for yourself how power equals productivity within your company.

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