Sharp Light

Potential of Laser Cutting for Product Design and Architecture

form 218
January/February 2008


Birkhäuser (Basel)

They can cut, weld, or harden – lasers are multifunctional tools that designers are increasingly using. There are now enough service providers who, for example, also offer laser cutting for small quantities.

It can cut, weld or solidify. Light rays are concentrated through mirrors and lenses and focused with high energy on a point. While 20 years ago powerful lasers were still the size of half a house, today there are high-power lasers the size of a suitcase. Laser cutting is important for designers. The technique can be used very flexibly, also in producing small quantities, as there are no other tools required in addition to the mounting device for the component. Practically all materials can be processed extremely precisely with a laser beam. The only exceptions are materials with a highly reflective surface such as gold, silver or copper. Material thickness can range from 0.05 millimeters in the case of foils to a maximum of 25 millimeters in the case of steel. The laser beam can be controlled very precisely so that die clearance of between 0.1 and 0.3 millimeters and small radii are created when processing at high speed. With metal sheets which are thinner than one millimeter the die clearance can be reduced to a width of 50 micro-meters. CO2 and solid-state lasers are employed almost exclusively for laser cutting. It is possible to program the device with simple input masks.

In addition to the automobile and chip industries lasers are used in cutting acrylic panels for advertising purposes, PET panels for interior work or textiles in the field of the fashion. Many service providers such as Aceltec offer processing of small quantities in job order production. The illustration shows the bracelet Lilly Lacey by Fabian Seibert made of powder-coated stainless steel with ornamentation which could not have been efficiently produced without a laser. In this case a solid-state laser from Lasag AG was used. Pallas KG applied a flexible coating to the jewelry.

The Hanover Laser Center has developed parameters for wood processing to produce a better quality cut than with conventionally sawn wood and no squashed edges for a price of five to eight euros per meter. In addition to cutting such lasers can also produce decorative incision markings. H2B Phototonics offers laser cutting for glass which is between two and 24 millimeters thick with completely clean edges in optic quality. In the process individual panes can be extracted from a pile of multiple glass layers. While industrial lasers have previously been only unilateral in their talents, researchers of Fraunhofer IWS have tuned them into multifunctional tools. At the Laser2007 they introduced a fiber laser system which can solidify, cut and weld. The laser is becoming a customized production tool.

image: Fabian Seibert