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FIBER LASERS GAIN REAL TRACTION IN THE SUBCONTRACT LASER CUTTING MARKET

FIBER vs CO2, For the past few years the laser cutting fraternity have been debating whether the Fiber laser was now a viable replacement for the traditional CO2 laser. Although there have been several false dawns this technology now seems to have come of age.

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BENEFITS OF FIBER LASER CUTTING

The fiber laser has two main benefits when compared to the CO2 laser, firstly it cuts faster and crucially it uses around thirty to forty per cent less electricity. With electric being one of the main costs for sub contract laser cutting companies the idea of being able to reduce one of their main costs is very attractive.

THE ONE MAJOR DRAWBACK OF FIBER LASER CUTTING

The main drawback of fiber laser cutting was its inability to cut thicker materials as fast as a CO2 laser. For the traditional laser job shop this was a big problem as given the diverse marketplace they serve they need to be able to cut any thickness as cheaply as possible. Thus fiber lasers were ideal for businesses where a laser was used for in-house production where a company would only ever cut thin gauge material.

FIBER LASER COMES OF AGE

As with all technology the advance of time brings great improvement, couple this with the large research and development budgets of laser machine manufacturers Amada, Trumpf and Bystronic. It was obvious that fiber laser cutting would make the necessary leap from thin to thick!

DIRECT COMPARISON CO2 vs FIBER

One laser cutting subcontractor that has been able to undertake a direct comparison between fiber and CO2 lasers is GF Laser. Based in the centre of the UK GF Laser serves a wide range of customers cutting all different materials of varying thicknesses.

In late 2015, after a period of sustained growth, GF Laser invested over £1 million in new laser cutting equipment. This investment included a fiber laser from Trumpf which could be compared directly against their existing CO2 lasers, also from Trumpf and not yet two years old.

Simon Tregillus, Commercial Director of GF Laser, mentions “We knew that the Fiber would be more economical but we were pleasantly surprised when also lived up to our expectations in cutting speeds when compared to our CO2 lasers. We are now seeing some parts cut up to 50% faster when compared to CO2, this helps us maintain our competitive edge in the price sensitive laser cutting market”.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THICKER MATERIALS?

Well, the gap has now narrowed so that thicker materials on a fiber cut as well as a CO2 with little difference in speed. As Simon Tregillus stated “The only issue we have had is with thicker stainless which proved problematic initially on the fiber laser, however, once we changed the settings then we were able to get a satisfactory result”.

THE VERDICT?

Although many people would say the jury is still out on laser cutting with fiber technology perhaps the most telling comments are from the laser cutting manufacturers who have mentioned they expect to stop selling CO2 lasers in the next three years. In addition, the value of second hand CO2 lasers has plummeted according to used laser machine traders as more and more CO2 lasers are traded in for Fiber lasers.

Rapid improvements in laser technology combined with spiraling energy costs and increasing market competitiveness have combined so that the fiber lasers time has now arrived. The fiber laser is now the first choice of laser whether it be for thick or thin materials.