Laser cutting machines have been one of the most quickly adopted technological innovations in metalworking, rapidly replacing earlier generation CO2 laser cutters. However, there are still reasons to choose CO2 lasers for non-metal cutting applications, while fiber laser cutting machines offer efficiency and precision cuts.

The difference between fiber and CO2 laser cutting machines lies in how the machine creates the laser, and how the laser affects the material it is cutting. In your shop, the choice of one or the other type of machine may come down to the type and thickness of materials you typically work on.

CO2 Laser Cutters

CO2 laser cutting machines generate laser light by passing an electrical current through a tube filled with carbon dioxide gas, and mirrors at either end. The mirrors direct the light toward the material to be cut.

These laser cutters generate a light beam with a much longer wavelength than fiber laser cutters. More of the light reflects back off the materials being cut, and less is absorbed. CO2 laser cutters are good for cutting thicker materials and for cutting non-metal materials like wood, leather, and plastic.

Fiber Laser Cutters

The “fiber” in the name of these laser cutters refers to the medium through which the laser light is delivered to the cutting surface. Diodes, rather than gas, generate the laser light, and the light travels down fiber optic cables to the cutting head.

Because the spot size of the laser in a fiber laser cutter is so much smaller than with a CO2 laser, these machines are better for etching or marking details like serial numbers, bar codes, and measurements on the metal.

Far less of the light from fiber laser cutters is reflected back off the material that it cuts; this provides high precision. However, it becomes less optimal with thicker materials: the laser only affects the top layer of the material, and it’s smaller spot size results in a more jagged edge as it penetrates thicker materials. For thick materials, the CO2 laser’s larger spot size produces a smoother edge.

An attractive difference between fiber and CO2 laser cutting machines that makes fiber laser cutters especially attractive is that fiber laser cutters are more efficient and require far less maintenance than CO2 laser cutting machines. The mirrors on a CO2 laser cutter can get knocked out of alignment, and they also get dirty, requiring a specialist to clean and realign them.

Closing Thoughts

At Mac-Tech, we can service your CO2 laser cutting machine or, depending on your needs, help you select a new fiber laser, Fiber Laser tube cutting machine, or plasma cutter. Our goal is to help you find the machines that will produce work faster and more efficiently. Contact us for more information on the types of cutting machines that may work best for you.

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