[1st in a series of three articles comparing metal-cutting lasers.]
Since the acceptance of fiber lasers in 2008 there has been a substantial increase in the ability of fiber lasers to cut materials along with reliability of the laser. The evolutionary development that took 15 years for CO2 lasers has taken less than 3 years for fiber lasers. That is the ability to go from a 1 kW laser to a 4kW with reliability. In the larger kW lasers, power losses are expelled from the system via large amounts of heat creating the necessity for a chiller unit. Along with the increased reliability has come the decrease in operational cost due to different efficiencies in the various lasers.
At present there are primarily three different lasers being used to process metals in the fabrication industries. All three have different characteristics and efficiencies that translate into different operating costs.
The CO2 laser has a typical wavelength of 10.6 µm with approximately 8% efficiency. It consists of the chiller unit, power supply, and the resonator (oscillator). There are several variations on this high power laser with the fast axial and the transverse flow resonators. Both will require internal optic alignments/replacements/cleanings, rebuilds/cleanings, and oil/grease replacements. External optics alignment/cleaning/replacement is also needed.
There is also a Thin Disk (Yb:YAG) which has a typical wavelength of 940nm with approximately 28% efficiency. It also requires internal optics alignment/cleaning/replacement, as well as external optics alignment/cleaning/replacement.
There is the Fiber Laser (Yb-doped fiber) which has a typical wavelength of 1069nm with approximately 38% efficiency. The Fiber Laser only requires external optics alignment/cleaning/replacement; there are no internal optics to maintain.
The chart below illustrates the differences in just the electrical cost of the three lasers.
|______LASER COMPARISON ELECTRICAL OPERATING COST ONLY|
|Annual cost based on 1 shift (2000 hours)|
As one can see there is a substantial savings on the operational cost of the fiber laser. One must also take into consideration the following items:
- Laser rebuild costs
- Laser reliability
- Laser beam stability
- Lasing gases
- Cutting gases
- Optics internal to the laser
- Internal optics alignment
- Optics external to the laser
- External optics alignment
- Focus lens length
- Spot size
- Beam quality
- Metallic materials processed
- Feed rates
In future articles we will take a closer look at the above items to see how they affect the cost and efficiency of the various lasers.
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