Laser cutting is a metal cutting process that offers numerous advantages over traditional cutting methods. It facilitates precision cuts and accommodates demanding design with intricate geometries. The narrow beam of focused light cuts through metal with little material waste in comparison to traditional mechanical cutting processes. Laser cutting has become a popular method for cutting a wide array of specialty aluminum alloys.
Challenges of Laser Cutting Aluminum
While laser cutting processes offer an efficient method for cutting metals, aluminum does present some unique challenges that not all providers can handle. These include:
Compared to stainless steel and iron, aluminum is a relatively soft metal. While the material itself can be cut, the edges might be less clean than harder metals. Providers of laser cutting services can accommodate for the softer metal by using a higher wattage laser, cutting faster, and implementing air assist technology to blow the kerf out of the way during cutting.
Laser cutting uses a highly focused beam of light to cut through the metal. The reflective surface of aluminum can scatter or even fully deflect the laser beam, which diminish its cutting capacity and potentially damage the optics of the cutting machine. Experienced laser cutting equipment operators can adjust for reflective metals like aluminum by altering cutting speed, cutting gas, and focus position of the laser to create an effective cut.
Aluminum is a good thermal conductor, which presents difficulties during laser cutting. Laser cutters use heat from the laser’s interaction with the metal material to melt through the surface. When that heat disperses too quickly, it can’t create clean, smooth cuts. Overcoming this issue requires a higher powered laser cutter with a metal cutting head.
Advantages of Fiber Laser Cutting for Aluminum
The difficulties discussed above are commonly associated with CO2 lasers, but these problems can typically be addressed by using a fiber-based laser instead. These tools have a 1-micron wavelength that reduces deflection and ensures the aluminum material will absorb more energy from the beam. This capability ensures that the aluminum will reach its melting point faster, resulting in more accurate, cleaner cuts.
What’s the Best Aluminum Alloy for Laser Cutting?
Some aluminum alloys feature a molecular structure that increases their compatibility with laser cutting processes. Some of the best aluminum alloys for laser cutting include:
- 2000 Series: These lightweight aluminum-copper alloys feature excellent hardness comparable to some types of steel. This series of aluminum is commonly used for precision tooling and aircraft components.
- 3000 Series: High-strength 3000 Series aluminum-manganese feature excellent mechanical properties, decent chemical resistances, and reduced ductility. 3000 series alloys are often used in pipes and kitchenware.
- 4000 Series: As an aluminum-silicon alloy, 4000 Series alloys feature good wear resistance and increased ductility. This type of alloy is common in die casting applications.
- 5000 Series: 5000 Series aluminum-magnesium alloys have good resistances to fusion and corrosion and will work harden when subjected to cold-forming processes. This series is popular in automotive and marine construction.
- 6000 Series: 6000 series aluminum alloys feature silicon and magnesium as alloy materials, providing good machinability, workability, and weldability. These metals see frequent use in welding and structural applications.
Laser Cutting Capabilities From JTV Manufacturing
At JTV Manufacturing, we offer a wide array of professional laser cutting services with quick turnaround times. Our in-house laser cutting systems include:
- Mitsubishi Electric ML4020 RX-F80 for large pieces of metal up to 1″ thick
- Bystronic 6000 Watt Laser Center for 1/2″ thick sheets of aluminum
- Bystronic 4400 Watt Laser Centers and Mazak 4000 Watt Laser Centers for 3/8″ thick sheets of aluminum
- ESAB Avengers XP2 ST-36 Multi-Head Oxy-Fuel/Plasma Table for thick steels
- Mazak 2500 Watt 3-D Fabri Gear 150 for working with tubes
When conducted by an experienced provider with the proper equipment, laser cutting facilitates accurate, complex cuts for a wide variety of aluminum alloys without sacrificing speed or quality. Contact us or request a quote today to see how our laser cutting capabilities can benefit your aluminum project.