A primary goal of most businesses is to maximize production and minimize costs while maintaining, or even improving, quality. Whether you are in manufacturing or metal fabricating the goal is discovering the most efficient processes possible. It is why many of us have invested in laser cutting devices. Laser cutting can improve both efficiency and quality. That is if other factors are taken into consideration. These other factors include choosing the right laser cutting gasses for optimal fabrication shop production.
What are Laser Cutting Gasses?
Laser cutting gasses, or laser assist gasses, work with the laser cutting device, in theory, to provide clean, efficient cuts in various types of materials. I say “in theory” because if the wrong laser cutting gasses are used, it will lead to inefficiencies and poor quality cuts. It can be expensive to select the wrong laser assist gas, not just because of the costs of the gas itself, but in the waste of time and materials. The most popular of laser cutting gasses are nitrogen and oxygen, although air is becoming increasingly popular.
Oxygen vs Nitrogen as Laser Assist Gasses
There are several factors in determining whether to use oxygen or nitrogen as a laser assist gas. They include the material being cut and the type of cut desired. Oxygen, for example, allows operators the ability to cut thin metals, including steel, at relatively efficient speeds fairly cleanly and cost-effectively. When using oxygen as a laser assist gas, the oxygen is doing most of the work. This means the power of the laser is limited in its ability to improve cutting speeds. If you want a clean cut on stainless steel or aluminum, however, using a high-pressure nitrogen laser cutting assist gas will yield better results. Here, the power of the laser itself has a direct effect on the cutting speeds of these materials.
Other factors include processing speeds and costs. While nitrogen can be more costly, it can also provide cleaner cuts at higher speeds. Oxygen, while offering a lower cost of operation, is limited in its processing speed.
Whether you should choose oxygen or nitrogen will also be greatly affected by the quality of cut desired and the secondary processes that will be needed to finish the metal. So when it boils down to it, when it comes to oxygen vs nitrogen one must consider:
- Type and thickness of material
- Cutting speed
- Quality of cut
- Finishing processes
Of course, all of the above have their own associated “costs” that will also be a big consideration, including the cost of the gas. When properly considered, the above factors can help you maximize the reason you invested in a laser cutting device in the first place…efficiency.
No, It’s Not Simple
There can be a tendency, for inexperienced operators especially, to slow down the feed rate if they are getting bad cuts. This may get the required results but it negates the value of laser cutting in the first place. There could be a combination of other factors causing a bad cut besides an excessive feed rate. It could be related to gas pressure or its flow rate. The laser beam may not quite be aligned properly with the nozzle. Maybe the proper factors weren’t considered in the choice between nitrogen and oxygen. If so, perhaps the feed rate was too fast to allow for the desired cut.
This is yet another part of the metal fabrication process that is part art and part science. Our engineers tend to believe it is science based. Our welders and metal workers would argue that there is an art to it. They both would have valid points. It is why working with a metal fabricator with experience in laser cutting material is so important.
What do you want to accomplish? Contact us and let’s talk about it.