Laser-beam machining is a thermal material-removal process that employs a high-energy, coherent light beam to melt and vaporize particles on the surface of metallic and non-metallic work pieces. Lasers can be used to cut, drill, weld and mark. LBM is mainly suitable for making accurately placed holes. A schematic of laser beam machining is shown in Figure 1.
Fig.1 Schematic of Laser beam machining
Different types of lasers are available for manufacturing operations which are as follows:
• CO2 (pulsed or continuous wave): It is a gas laser that emits light in the infrared region. It can provide up to 25 kW in continuous-wave mode.
• Nd:YAG: Neodymium-doped Yttrium-Aluminium-Garnet (Y3Al5O12) laser is a solid- state laser which can deliver light through a fibre-optic cable. It can deliver up to 50 kW power in pulsed mode and 1 kW in continuous-wave mode.
Fig.2 Laser beam machining
• LBM can make very precise holes as small as 0.005 mm in refractory metals ceramics, and composite material without warping the work pieces. This process is used widely for drilling.
Laser beam cutting (drilling)
· In drilling, energy transferred (e.g., via a Nd:YAG laser) into the work piece melts the material at the point of contact, which subsequently changes into a plasma and leaves the region.
· A gas jet (typically, oxygen) can further facilitate this phase transformation and departure of material removed.
· Laser drilling should be targeted for hard materials and hole geometries that are difficult to achieve with other methods.
Fig.3 Laser drilling SEM Image
A typical SEM micrograph holes drilled by laser beam machining process employed in making a hole is shown in Fig 3.
Fig.4 Laser beam drilling Schematic
Advantage of laser cutting:
· No limit to cutting path as the laser point can move any path.
· The process is stress less allowing very fragile materials to be laser cut without any support.
· Very hard and abrasive material can be cut.
· Sticky materials are also can be cut by this process.
· It is a cost effective and flexible process.
· High accuracy parts can be machined.
· No cutting lubricants required
· No tool wear
· Narrow heat effected zone
Fig.5 Laser drilling process
Limitations of laser cutting
· Uneconomic on high volumes compared to stamping
· Limitations on thickness due to taper
· High capital and maintenance cost
· Assist or cover gas required