Have you started a new position and are wondering what is CO2 vs fiber lasers? Working in aerospace, precision is very important. Any project is going to try to maximize strength while minimizing weight, and any specific component within a design is likely built to narrow tolerance limits.
To make such precise things, aerospace designers and manufacturers often need laser cutting. For that, they might turn to CO2 or fiber lasers. Both are common in this space and for very different reasons. A quick look at the key differences between these two lasers can help with planning and execution for many aerospace projects.
Difference between CO2 vs fiber lasers
CO2 lasers are very common for high-precision industrial cutting. For an aerospace project, there is any number of components that require laser cutting, and many of them are best suited for a CO2 laser.
CO2 lasers produce photons with wavelengths between 9 and 11 micrometers. This is in the infrared range, and it is on the absorption spectra of many materials that are used for aerospace projects. That is one reason why so many designers and manufacturers will inevitably turn to CO2 lasers for precision cutting.
CO2 lasers are good at a lot of things. Perhaps a better way to say it is that CO2 lasers are good at cutting a wide range of materials. Primarily, they are used for nonmetallic materials. Plastics, rubbers, foams, phenolics, and other nonmetallic materials are all properly processed by CO2 laser cutting.
In aerospace projects, CO2 lasers can cut a lot of the light, structurally strong materials that get around using metals when possible. CO2 lasers can also cut non-structural components that are still essential to the function of the project.
The drawbacks to CO2 lasers are mostly tied to energy efficiency. CO2 lasers typically take more energy to operate and process some materials than that of a fiber laser of the same wattage. Depending on material type, CO2 may not produce the optimal cut quality.
Fiber lasers are also infrared lasers, but there are key differences between fiber laser designs when compared to CO2 lasers. For starters, the operational wavelength for a fiber laser is typically between 0.7 and 2.2 micrometers (near infra-red). This entire range is lower on the wavelength spectrum than you will see for CO2 lasers (far infra-red). That changes the types of materials that best absorb fiber laser photons (energy), and it leads to significant design changes that come with important pros and cons.
Fiber lasers are great for delivering a very high intensity across a very small focus diameter. They can achieve up to 100 times higher intensities than CO2 lasers. This is why they are used much more for metal cutting and etching.
Additionally, with such a small focus diameter, fiber lasers can do even more precise work than CO2 lasers with large beam diameters, making them ideal for cutting the smallest, most intricate metal pieces in a project.
The high intensity of fiber lasers is not ideal for cutting all materials. Fiber lasers also have a shorter operational frequency spectrum. Because of that, the range of materials that can properly absorb fiber laser photons for clean cutting is reduced.
The operational spectrum of CO2 lasers is better suited for a wide range of nonmetallic materials. It’s the primary reason why fiber lasers are largely relegated to cutting metals.
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There is a right laser for every job by matching the right laser wavelength to the application/material ensuring the best results in terms of quality, cost, and material waste. Micron Laser Technology employs various fiber and CO2 lasers in the fabrication of precision aerospace parts and components. When sourcing or designing your next laser machined aerospace part, contact Micron Laser Technology for more information.
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