Glossary of Terms

An in-depth glossary guide to the daily terminology we use here.

A

Ablation

This is a term used to describe the removal of material during the process.

Ablation can refer to melting, vaporisation, and evaporation. It can also occur during laser manufacturing processes, or even medical procedures.

Absorbance

Absorbance is a term used to describe materials that can absorb electromagnetic radiation.

It is measured as a negative logarithm of transmittance.

Alloy Steels

An alloy steel has an iron component, but does not contain the regular metals that makes up stainless steels.

Alloy steel can usually be cut using CO2 laser technology.

Aluminum/Aluminum Alloys

Aluminium is very reflective to laser light and has high thermal conductivity properties. As a result of this, aluminium can be cut quickly regardless of its width.

Aluminium alloy, on the other hand, is often cut using melt shearing with nitrogen gas.

Anodized Aluminium Sheet

This is an aluminium sheet coated with a thin layer of aluminium oxide.

The aluminium oxide has a low reflectivity to CO2 laser and can be used to pierce the sheet with remarkable ease. In addition to being straightforward to cut, anodized aluminium also provides a protective layer to the metal – making it scratch resistant and less likely to be corrosive.

Articulated Arm

A component of the laser beam delivery device, consisting of tubes and mirrors.

Assist Gas

This is the gas which is used during the cutting process, most commonly with metals.

The assist gas, usually oxygen, provides oxide-free cut edges and a smooth finished product.

However, if a non-metal material is being used, then compressed air is used instead of oxygen.

B

Beam

A ‘beam’ is a collection of radiation that can either be parallel, convergent, or divergent.

Beam Diameter

This is the measurement between the two opposed points in a cross section of a circular beam.

The metric value is often chosen at 1/et (0.135), which is considered the optimum level for manufacturing.

Beam Divergence

The derivative of a beam radius in terms of its relation to the axial position – commonly measured in radians or milirands.

C

CAD (and CAD / CAM)

Computer Aided Design (CAD) is a software program that is used to create the drawing prototypes of the laser cut product.

Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) is used to develop tool paths and is often included in the same package as CAD.

Ceramics

This is a durable material with a high melting point, commonly used in manufacturing processes.

Ceramics are created when elements like oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon react together. The most popular ceramic materials include aluminium oxide, titanium nitride, and tungsten carbide.

CNC

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) is a machine located within the laser apparatus that is responsible for controlling the machine’s motion.

In the context of laser technology, the CNC would be used to control the motion tables and correctly positioning a material beneath the laser beam.

CNC Controlled

CNC Controlled equipment measures and controls the cutting process to ensure that every product is cut with optimum accuracy. It is often considered the most important aspect of the automated factory process.

CO2 Laser

This is one of the most popular cutting processes used in the industry. Using an infrared spectrum, a continuous wave (CW) is pulsed directly to the surface of a material using mirrors.

Depending on the task, Co2 lasers are made up of the following gas components:

CO2 (10-20%)
Nitrogen (10-20%)
Hydrogen
Helium

CO2 lasers are an extremely effective process and can reach up to 40,000 watts. It has the capacity to cut a range of metals, including metals, wood, and ceramics.

Coated Steels

A coated steel is a protective layer added to the surface of steel. This coating could be paint, zinc plating, or even mill scale.

The purpose of coated steels is to reduce cutting speeds and decrease the likelihood of damage during the cutting process.

Collimation

Collimated light is directly parallel to the laser apparatus, and thus does not spread with distance.

It is thus highly important that a laser beam does not collimate from the apparatus.

Collimator

This is an optical device that is used to maintain the correct beam diameter between a material and the apparatus.

It consists of two lenses and is divided by the sum of the focal length.

Copper/Copper Alloys

Copper alloy is a metal, made up of various elements, whose main metal component is copper. For the sake of industrial cutting, the most popular copper alloys contain both copper and brass. The less copper featured in the alloy, the quicker the material will cut.

Crystal

Crystals are solids which contain a highly ordered microscopic structure, with a crystal lattice made up of atoms, molecules, and ions.

The most common crystal materials that are used for cutting are sapphires and Yttrium Aluminium Garnet (YAG).

Cut Edge

This is a term used to describe the edge of a material following the process of cutting.

Cut Initiation (Piercing)

The cut initiation process involves using laser technology to drill small holes into a material, using a pulsed beam or compressed air/oxygen as an assist gas.

Cut Quality

The cut quality of a material is a term used to describe the smoothness of a product following the cutting process.

Cut Termination

This process describes meeting, or crossing, a previously cut line and severing the material entirely.

Cut Width

The width of a laser cut on the surface of a material. This could range anywhere between 0.1mm and 0.4mm.

The cut width of a material will depend on the thickness if the work piece and its unique properties.

Cutting Bed Size

This is the area of a laser machine where the work piece is placed for cutting.

Cutting Gas

There are a variety of gases used during the cutting process. Some of the most commonly used gases include oxygen, compressed air, nitrogen, and argon.

Cutting Pattern

The pattern that will be followed when cutting the work piece, according to the specifications of Computer Aided Design (CAD).

Cutting Zone

The surface of the work piece that will be cut by the laser beam.

CW

Continuous Wave (CW) is an abbreviation used to describe the continuous-emission mode of a laser beam.

Cycle Time

This is the length of time a work piece will take to be cut. This information will be stipulated before the laser cutting process begins and will be provided on the Application Report.

Depth Of Field

The effective range of a laser beam. It can be calculated according to the function of a wavelength, the unfocused beam diameter, and the lens focal length.

The shorter the focal length, the smaller the depth of the field.

D

Divergence

The angle of the laser beam in relation to far field.

Drift

Any undesirable variables in laser output, usually calculated as amplitude or frequency.

Dross

Resolidified metal residue found on the lower edge of a laser cut. The more residue present, the lower the cut quality is generally considered.

This residue can be limited using a pulsed laser cutter and increased oxygen pressures.

Duty Cycle

The length of time a laser beam is involved in processing a material – whether this is cutting, welding, or drilling.

The duty cycle is calculated as a percentage of laser time and related pulse period.

DWG File

This is a type of AutoCAD drawing file. Given that AutoCAD own the official specification of this file format, it can be difficult for third parties to access and utilise this programme.

DXF Format/DXF File

Drawing Interchange Format (also known as Drawing eXchange Format) has become the most commonly used file format in the industry – responsible for transferring files between AutoCAD and other software platforms.

It is used in the majority of CAD, drawing, and mapping processes.

E

E-Stop/Emergency Stop

The emergency stop button located on the cutting machine.

Edge Factor/Edge Deformation

Term used to describe the smoothness, or distortion, of a cut laser cut.

Edge Quality

Like edge factor, the edge quality is another term used to describe the condition of a workpiece following the cutting process.

Good edge quality can be achieved through a stable motion system and highly controlled laser beam.

EDM

Stands for Electric Discharge Machining.

This is a precursor to laser cutting technology, and is a very slow cutting process which involves using an electric discharge to remove material in small installments.

In the majority of cases, EDM has been replaced by laser cutting to achieve optimum accuracy and efficiency.

Embedded Laser

An embedded laser is a laser located within the device itself.

The embedded laser usually exceeds the Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) and is therefore unable to come into contact with humans. It is most commonly classified as Class 1 or Class 2.

Enclosed Laser Device

A laser which is located within an enclosed environment that cannot be exposed to hazardous optical radiation. This is the opposite of an embedded laser.

Energy

The result of power, measured in watts, and length of time – measured in seconds.

Energy is measured in joules and one watt second is equal to one joule.

Etch

The process of marketing a material without actually cutting all the way through.

F

F-Number

The f-number is calculated as the length of the focal lens, divided by its usable diameter.

The usable diameter is defined as the width of a laser beam.

Failsafe Interlock

The protective interlock that will ensure any mechanical failing will automatically enter safety mode during the cutting process.

Feed Rate

The speed of the cutting head.

Focal Point

The point at which the laser beam has the smallest diameter. This is the point where the laser has the highest concentration of energy.

G

G-Code

A computer code language that is used to control CNC devices. It is the most commonly implemented programming language for this particular type of equipment.

Gas Jet

The gas which is blown into workpiece to remove any molten materials or debris.

The gas jet can also be utilised to create a chemical reaction on the workpiece and increase the cutting process.

Gas Jet Assist

This is a type of gas which is used to accelerate the cutting process – commonly oxygen, nitrogen, or argon.

Gas Laser

A type of laser which uses gas as a means to cut materials.

Gas Mix

A ratio used to determination which proportion of carbon dioxide, helium, and nitrogen should be used during the cutting process.

Gas Pressure

Measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), gas pressure is the pressure intensity of the Assist Gas during the cutting process. This can range between 30 to 200 psi in a given cutting process.

Glasses

The majority of glasses cannot be treated via laser cutting. This is because they have a high level of CO2 absorptivity and are susceptible to cracking or worse damage.

Nevertheless, laser technology is able to effectively cut quartz and other specially-created heat resistant glass.

H

Hard Limit

This is the stop on a machine at which it cannot move further in a particular direction. The hard limit is set to ensure maximum accuracy and to protect the workpiece from unnecessary cutting. Also see soft limit.

Heat Affected Zone (HAZ)

The Heat Affected Zone (HAZ) is the steel surface area which has undergone microstructural change during the cutting process. It is a result of substantial amounts of energy, predominantly heat, being used to cut the material.

Helium-Neon (He-Ne) Laser

A helium-neon laser can be characterised by its visible beam of light.

These lasers are commonly used to ensure correct alignment for laser optical processes and as an aid for setting up equipment – including printing objects and measuring distances.

Hold Tolerance

Used to categorise the variation of a laser cut (+/-) to a workpiece surface – usually measured in thousandths of an inch.

Home

A reference point located on the machine, defined either by software or hardware.

I

IGS File

A commonly used CAD file format, created specifically for 3D components.

Inert Gas Cutting (Nitrogen Cutting)

A laser cutting process that uses nitrogen as the cutting gas.

Inert gas cutting is very popular in the food and catering industry. This is because the process automatically coats the workpiece’s cut edges in the same metal mixture as the workpiece itself.

Intensity

Calculated in units, this is magnitude of radiant energy used in the cutting process – including time and reflective surface.

K

Kerf

A planned groove or notch made by a cutting beam. The size of the kerf will depend on the workpiece properties, the lens focal length, and which assist gas is being implemented.

L

Laser

Stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

Lodged within a cavity, the beam contains mirrors at both ends and is filled a material such as glass, crystal, or gas.

The laser then produces an intense beam of light which can be used to cut or engrave a material surface area.

Laser Cutting

Using industrial laser technology, this process involves utilising a laser for the purpose for manufacturing or fabricating a particular product. This process commonly involves using metals, such as steel, aluminium, or alloys.

Laser Cutting Grade Steels

There are a wide range of steels which can be suitable for cutting applications. However, some are stronger than others – and some steels contain less impurities, such as sulphur and silicon. As a result of this, these particular steels can be cut at a much faster pace and can be cut at a greater maximum thickness.

Laser Generated Air Contaminants (LGAC)

Under the intense heat of laser technology, some materials can emit poisonous or potentially hazardous gases.

In the interest of safety, laser generated air contaminants are an important consideration for cutting manufacturers.

Laser Oscillation

The coherent wave build-up between a laser cavity and its end mirrors.

In terms of manufacturing applications, continuous Wave (CW) mode means that the wave will bounce back and forth between the laser mirrors and lose a small portion of its energy in each transition.

Pulsed operation, on the other hand, means that these emissions will happen automatically.

Laser Product

This is a legal term used in the U.S. to describe any type of ‘laser on laser system’.

Laser Safety Officer (LSO)

This a professional office who has the capacity to assess and enforce measures intended to control the use of potentially hazardous lasers.

Lens

An reflective or non-reflective optic that can be used to transmit a beam of light to a particular point.

A short focal point means that a laser will provide a narrow beam – used primarily in small tasks that require heightened accuracy and precision. A long focal point, however, is used for engraving because it has a less intensive beam of concentrated energy.

Overall, beam diameter is one of the most important considerations for those changing the focus of an optic lense.

M

Machine-Readable Code

A programming language designed for industrial manufacturing processes to carry out ongoing tasks in an efficient and consistent manner.

Material Thickness

This is the width of a particular workpiece.

The material thickness will be used to assess how much energy (kW) will be required to achieve the optimum cutting rate.

Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE)

The maximum extent to which a person can be exposed to laser radiation without incurring potentially harmful side effects.

Maximum Sheet Thickness

Every material has a different thickness limitation that will dictate whether or not the workpiece is suitable for cutting.

The maximum sheet thickness is usually measured in millimeters or inches.

Melt Shearing

A cutting application which produces a melted residue. A gas jet, comprising on compressed air, is usually used to remove this after-product and ensure no damage to the workpiece. This process is also known as fusion cutting.

Melting Point

This is the temperature at which a material melts.

The higher the melting point, the higher volume of energy is required to effectively cut the workpiece.

Micrometer

A unit of length equated to one millionth of a meter.

An individual unit is known as a micron.

Mild and Carbon Steels

These are materials which are made up almost entirely of iron (99% or more).

Using either melt shearing or a gas jet, both of these materials can be cut with remarkable ease.

Mode Locked

An industrial process of creating short, rapid laser pulses on a continual basis – a duration which is determined according by the laser specialist.

Monochromatic

A type of laser that emits a light beam that comprises of one colour.

Moving Optics Laser

A type of laser which utilises moving mirrors to reflect the laser beam during the cutting process. The material itself will remain stationary.

Moving Workpiece Laser

A laser with a stationary cutting head and the workpiece rotates to the produce the desired result.

Multi-Axis Laser Cutting

Rather than having one axes, a multi-axis laser comprises of multiple axes.

This process is used in the manufacturing of 3D objects – but this heightened technicality comes at a price. It is also a process which requires much more complex safety precautions.

Multi-Axis Machining

Fast and extremely precise, multi-axis machining utilises one or more axes to complete complex tasks. It works in conjunction with CAD/CAM to the best possible results.

N

Nd:Glass Laser

A laser made from neodymium glass that produces high performance and short pulses for specific industrial tasks.

Nd:YAG Laser

Similar to Nd:Glass lasers, these lasers are made from neodymium yttrium-aluminium garnet. Powering up to 4,000 watts, Nd:YAG has the capacity to transmission its beam through fiber optics and produce a wavelength of 1.06micrometers.

This laser is used for detailed work and is designed specifically for reflective surfaces.

Nickel Alloys

A combination of metallic elements, predominantly nickel, to produce a new metal.

There are a range of nickel alloy types, the most common of which are monels, inconels, renes, and hastelloys.

All of these can be cut in the same manner as stainless steel.

Nominal Hazard Zone (NHZ)

The NHZ stipulates the amount of space at which an individual can occupy the same space as laser equipment without being subject to harmful radiation.

Nozzle

A piece of apparatus which is connected to the Gas Jet.

The nozzle acts to provide assist gas to the workpiece in a columnar flow. It is particularly important for metals that produce molten metal during the cutting process.

O

Oxygen (O2) Assisted Laser

A laser cutter which relies on oxygen to help cut thicker workpieces – such as steel.

Oxygen Assist

Coaxial oxygen is used to produce an exothermic reaction during the cutting process. In doing so, the speed at which the material can be cut is reduced and thus becomes much more efficient. It is also the oxygen itself that does the cutting – not the laser beam.

P

Polymers

A group of plastics divided into two main categories, thermoplastics and thermosets.

Positioning Tolerance

The extent to which a workpiece can be located closely to a laser beam’s x, y, and z axes.

Power Density

Laser output related to unit per area (commonly measured as watts per square centimeter, or W/cm²).

Pulse

A non-continuous burst of laser beam, rather than a constant beam of light.

Pulse Frequency

The rate at which pulses can be generated, measured in pulses per second (Hz).

Pulse Length

The amount of time in which energy is delivered from the laser beam. The pulse length corresponds to half of the leading and trailing edge heights of the optical pulse.

Pulsed Laser

A laser which produces a series of pulses in its transmission of energy. This process is commonly used to create burr-free stainless steel edges and to treat other harder, more difficult to cut metals.

Pulsing

The process of producing a non-continuous burst of laser beam, rather than a constant beam of light.

Q

Q-Switch

A shutter-like device that is used to control and maintain the laser resonator’s oscillation abilities.

R

Reflection

A material property that describes the return of light waves from a reflective surface.

Reflectivity

A measurement of a workpiece’s reflection of laser light.

Both copper and aluminium, for example, are highly reflective and require reduced work speeds because of their difficulty in cutting.

Refraction

Light deflection from a straight path to pass from one medium to another in which the velocity is different.

Repeatability Tolerance

The measurement at which a CNC machine has the capacity to repeat a particular process with a stated degree of variance. High repeatability tolerances meet that the workpiece is unlikely to be consistent.

Rockwell C

A test for assessing how hard a metal is – used particularly for steel and aluminium.

S

Soft Limit

A boundary limit with regards to a particular workpiece surface. This area cannot be crossed into by the cutting machine.

The soft limit is pre-determined using CAD software and the machine will notify its operator before the limitation is crossed.

Stability

A measurement used to assess how long a laser beam can maintain output with consistent characteristics.

Stainless Steels

These steels are a combination of iron, chromium, and other elements such as nickel.

Stainless steel is robust and reacts particularly well to cutting. They can be provided with a protective coating of oxidised liquids to ensure that the cut zone is fully adhered to.

T

Taper

The length of distance between the top of profile of the laser cut and the bottom profile.

TEA Laser

Stands for Transversely Excited Atmospheric (TEA) laser. Using a CO2 laser, this device operates at a much higher pressure rate than other lasers and utilises a transverse flow of gas. This means that TEA lasers are ideally suited to high-energy workpieces.

TEM

Stands for Transverse ElectroMagnetic mode. This part of the laser device describes the cross-sectional component of the beam.

Thermal Conductivity

A term used to assess a material’s ability to transfer heat from one object to another.

Materials, such as aluminium, with high thermal conductivity levels, are more difficult to cut because they lose heat quickly and slow down the cutting process.

Thermoplastics

A polymer that is soft when heated and can be transformed into new shapes.

Thermosets

A polymer that cannot be melted down to create new shapes once it has been set.

Titanium Alloys

Titanium alloys contain a mixture of metals in conjunction with titanium.

Titanium alloys possess the following properties: they are strong, durable, light, and resistant to corrosion.

However, titanium is very reactive and will result in poor edge quality when put into contact with laser beams. For this reason, titanium is only cut using chemically inert gases like argon or helium.

Traverse

This is a term used to describe how a cutting machine operates without the actual process of cutting.

U

Ultraviolet Lasers

A type of gas or solid-state laser which has been configured to emit ultraviolet light during the cutting process.

Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation

Electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths that measure between 180-400mm.

V

Vaporization

The process by which a solid is converted into vapour under intense heat conditions.

Depending on the material, lasers will sometimes vaporise metal as they are being cut.

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