A primary reason why fabricators use laser machines is because they are effective at cutting various type of sheet metal, as long as it isn’t too thick. For thicker plates, manufacturers use plasma cutters. Thin metals can be cut with various tools, but the key advantage to laser cutters is that they provide precision without using excessive energy, which cuts production costs. Here’s a deeper look at laser cut thin metal fabrication.
Thin vs. Thick Metal
The thickness of sheet metal is expressed by gauge, usually in millimeters or inches, which can be found with a tape measure or gauge tool. The higher the gauge, the thinner the sheet, similar to the way a rating system works. A gauge of 10, for example, has a thickness of .135 inches for standard steel, whereas a gauge of 20 has a thickness of .040 inches. Gauges for sheet metal tend to range from 7 to 30.
But this form of measurement differs between metal types, depending if they are ferrous or non-ferrous. For stainless steel, a gauge of 10 equals .135 inches while a gauge of 20 is .040 inches. The scale system differs for galvanized steel and should not be confused with wire gauges.
Lasers are useful for cutting thin sheet metal and foils because they make clean cuts without extra labor for refinement. Industrial manufacturers use laser cutting for machine and electronic parts, notably in the automotive and medical industries. Thin sheet metal used for shearing and splicing tends to be below 6 mm in thickness. In general, sheet metal thickness ranges from about 0.15 to 6.3 mm. Thinner metal is called “foil,” whereas metal thicker than this range is called “plate,” which is more appropriately cut by plasma cutters.
Advantages to Laser Cutting
Laser cut thin metal is favored by manufacturers over traditional methods partly because it’s the most efficient and modern way to cut such material. It doesn’t require the maintenance of older machines in which cutting blades must be sharpened or replaced periodically. Since the laser has minimal force on the metal due to no contact between the beam and the material, it reduces the chances of damaging the sheet metal.
A laser is much more precise for detailed patterns than a band saw and allows for more control since it’s automated based on computer programming. The main two ways thin metal is cut are gas-assisted and galvanometer-steered. The former uses table motion while the latter relies on beam steering, which is useful for high speed repeititious projects.
Sheet metal gauge determines what type of cutting machine to use, as lasers are very effective at cutting thin sheets of various types of metal. Contact us at Serra Laser to learn more about the advantages of laser cut thin metal.