Struggling to cut through those thick pieces of metal? Instead of using that wimpy cutting torch, try using something really strong, like a laser, attached to the head of a shark…or maybe just the laser would be enough.
Industrial facilities often need a way of efficiently cutting metal. There are many types of industrial metal cutting including laser, plasma, and water jet. Lasers are typically faster than water jet cutters and more accurate than plasma cutters. However, lasers are not able to cut a variety of materials like water jet cutters can and are typically not as fast as plasma cutters. This brief focuses (like a laser) on lasers.
A LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation), commonly referred to as just laser, can be used in industrial cutting applications. The laser itself contains a medium that is able to be stimulated. A power source called a resonator (or pumping energy) is used to excite the medium into giving up photons. This light is then directed using mirrors or fiber optics. The resonator uses a large power source that can range from a few kW up to 150 kW. The two basic laser types are carbon dioxide (CO2) and fiber, with the main difference being how the laser’s beam is guided.
Currently, the more popular of the two is the CO2 laser, which uses CO2 in the medium along with Nitrogen, Hydrogen, and Helium. In CO2 lasers, mirrors are used to guide the beam; there is a 100% reflective mirror on one end and a semi reflective mirror on the other. Efficiencies vary, but CO2 lasers are in the realm of 10%-20% efficient (power output of the laser versus energy into the resonator). This produces a lot of heat, which is typically cooled with an integrated chiller. Metered data indicates that the cooling is around 40% – 45% of the entire electrical load for the laser.
The fiber laser option uses fiber optics to direct the laser. Also the medium is the fiber optic cable which is infused with elements that can be excited to produce photons. Since this happens inside the fiber optic cable, it is easily directed to the cutting edge without using mirrors.
The best option depends on individual cutting needs and often varies. The fiber laser is typically more efficient when cutting thinner metals (typically less than 0.25 inches), but CO2 lasers can usually cut faster when cutting thicker material. Efficiency for lasers should be considered using both the energy input and speed, but don’t lose track of the cooling. A larger power laser with an efficient chiller can have the same total output power as a weaker laser with an inefficient chiller. And that can make all the difference in the world if you’d like to turn the moon into a death star.
 As spoken so eloquently by Dr. Evil in Austin Powers – International Man of Mystery