Laser Cutting and Electrochemical Etching – Basic Principles

Laser cutting is one of the most economical types of cutting. However, despite its popularity and high quality of cut, there are some drawbacks connected with this technology.

laser engraving

Laser cutting is one of the most economical metal cutting techniques available today. With proper optimization of cutting parameters and regular maintenance of the laser cutter, laser sheet metal cutting gives a high quality of cut. In addition to being used for metal cutting, materials such as plastics, wood, glass and various other materials can also be laser-cut. However, it is very important to ask about the main advantages and disadvantages of laser cutting. For some materials like metal, laser cutting is the best cutting technique while for some other materials this technique is only an alternative.

The benefits of laser cutting

One of the main advantages of this type of cutting is the high precision and quality of the cut. With the development of CNC technology and refinement of the laser cutter head, the precision of the cut is increased to as high as 0.02 millimeters. In addition to high precision, it is worth mentioning that cutting time is increasingly shortens.

In addition to speed and precision, one of the main advantages of laser metal cutting is that no contact is made between the cutting tool and the cutting material. Other conventional cutting techniques also have a major problem with temperature, which can damage the material. Because of the auxiliary gas and the aforementioned, this problem is almost nonexistent with laser cutting.

Other advantages of laser metal cutting include:

-Laser cutting can be used not only for metal cutting but also for cutting plastic, ceramics, wood and glass

-In addition to cutting, laser technology can also be used for engraving

-The laser cutting process takes place with minimal operator intervention

-High efficiency

Disadvantages of laser cutting

With the obvious advantages associated with this type of cutting, there are some disadvantages. The main disadvantage of laser cutting is the power, that is, the energy required to create a laser beam. However, as laser technology evolves and is constantly improving, this deficiency should very likely be corrected soon. In addition, one of the main disadvantages is the evaporation that can occur when cutting artificial materials such as plastics. In order to eliminate this problem there are a number of different solutions on the market that are relatively expensive and complex to implement for now.   Also, one of the problems with laser cutting is the maintenance of sensitive components of the laser head. During maintenance, there is a risk of possible injury of a technician who may be injured by a laser beam through careless handling.

Other disadvantages of laser cutting include:

-The degree of effectiveness varies with material thickness, cutting speed, etc.

-Depending on the material being cut, there is a risk of damage as a result of  the developing temperature

-Cost of technology acquisition

3 key factors for quality laser cutting

In order to make the cut as quality as possible, the laser cutter requires regular servicing and cleaning. Before each laser cutting project, the three most important questions must be asked to ensure that the project is completed as high as possible.

Are the laser cutter lens cleaned properly?

Cutting lenses are one of the most important parameters that affect the quality of the cut. Since during cutting processes occur  that can lead to the formation of a layer on the lens that reduces the quality of the cut, the operator must clean the lenses after a number of cutting cycles.

However, when cleaning, special attention should be paid to the way the lenses are cleaned. With careless cleaning, the cutting lens may be damaged or may not be completely cleaned, leaving a thin layer of dirt on it. There are specially developed agents for cleaning the lenses. What is needed is to apply a reasonable amount of cleanser. This is followed by polishing lenses with very slight hand pressure on her. With regular maintenance and cleaning, the lifespan of a laser lens can be extended to as much as 8 months with an inevitable improvement in cutting quality.

Is the laser nozzle centered?

Laser cutting nozzle plays a very important and irreplaceable role. Besides being carried out laser beam and directs it to the metal, the auxiliary gas used for cutting also passes through it. For this reason, after a certain cutting cycle, the operator must check the alignment of the nozzle by directing the laser beam at the ribbon for approximately 1 second. After that, it is necessary to check that the hole formed in the tape is well centered. Since a very small hole has been formed, the operator is advised to use a magnifier. In addition to increasing the precision of the cut, with good centering of the nozzle, the cutting speed can be increased by as much as 40%.

Is the laser cutter optics focused?

In addition to the regular and proper maintenance of cutting optics, after a certain number of cutting cycles, it is necessary to focus it.

In modern laser cutters there is a system that automatically performs focusing without the need for operator intervention. However, in older laser cutter, the operator has to perform focusing himself. Different methods have been developed to focus laser optics that give the same result. Focusing is performed by the operator by releasing a low power laser beam and operating a focusing system located on the laser cutter. After it has turned blue, the operator must write down the values and repeat the whole process three times. The average result obtained by this process is fed into the laser cutter system by the operator, which keeps the optics focused. However, the focus process depends largely on the type and manufacturer of the laser cutter. Therefore, it is recommended that you consult with the manufacturer in order to ensure that the focusing is carried out properly.

machine for laser engraving

Regular maintenance is the key to laser cutting quality

These questions are just some of the guidelines that lead to improving the quality of your laser cutter. However, the key to improving quality and extending the life of laser cutters is regular maintenance. In addition to increasing speed, regular maintenance also increases the quality of laser cutting with a price that remains the same.

Electrochemical Marking

Electrochemical marking (etching) is suitable for marking of all metal surfaces. The basic requirement is that the object we mark conducts electricity. Flat and curved surfaces can be marked, regardless of hardness. It is used to mark products, promotional items, instruments, industrial tools, handicrafts, personal identification and the like. Economical and easy to use for single and batch production. Possibility of installation in existing or new production lines, or manual use as a standalone device. The system is portable and suitable for marking large objects. The principle of work is to mark over the template with a contact copy.

electrochemical marking

Examples of electrochemical labeling in manufacturing where electrochemical labeling devices are used are:

-metal machining – marking positions with product code and / or logo

-manufacture of stainless steel fences – marking with the manufacturer’s logo

-production of stainless steel catering equipment (bars, professional kitchens, hoods,…) – marking by manufacturer’s logo, production dates

-production of stainless steel cutlery, various washers, plates and the like – marking by manufacturer’s logo, model mark, etc.

Electrochemical marking is a process by which conductive metal surfaces are marked and labeled with the help of electrical current and mild electrolytic fluids. The electrochemical etching process was developed to streamline the marking of conductive metals. Application areas of electrochemical etching machines are best to products made from hard metal, stainless steel, tool steel, zinc, aluminium and brass or with chrome-plated or nickel-plated surfaces, without impairing the structure of the material. The process is an electrochemical one and involving a combination of electrical current, time, electrolyte and the material itself.

Electrochemical marking can produce a high-quality mark very quickly – and at minimal costs.

Electrochemical marking and etching are especially effective on stainless steel surfaces.

marking of metal

Etching / marking with electrochemical machines is extremely simple and consists of only a few short stages:

  • Stencil/mask printing
  • Surface preparation (quick cleaning)
  • Fluid application and stencil positioning
  • Actual marking/etching with the use of the electrode head
  • Surface neutralization after marking/etching is done

Compared to other methods, electrolytic marking/etching is far more flexible and is mostly done with highly portable and affordable equipment.