Atomstack air assist in a laser cutter helps the machine achieve better laser engraving or laser cutting results by minimizing heat around the laser head, dissipating heat where the laser touches the workpiece, removing debris around the contact point, preventing the workpiece combustion.
How does laser air assist work?
Although relatively new to some, machine tool builders have been researching and developing the process since as early as 1998. It has been discovered that a CO2 laser engraver needs more than a beam to engrave successfully. They also need to inject auxiliary gas nozzles on the laser head to complement the operation. This convergence initiates an exothermic reaction. An exothermic reaction is a chemical reaction that releases energy through light or heat. Using nitrogen, oxygen, or pressurized air helps transfer heat more efficiently than beams alone. With this, you can get the job done faster, cleaner and more smoothly.
For many years, oxygen was the most commonly used gas assist gas for laser engraving. It was later replaced by nitrogen, which was found to produce cooler engravings with cleaner edges. It's a perfect choice for industries where aesthetics and edge quality are paramount. However, pressurized air has been found to be a more economical option, with efficiencies comparable to nitrogen and oxygen.
This is not to say that pressurized air can completely replace nitrogen or oxygen. After all, air is made up of 80% nitrogen and the rest is mostly oxygen. Air-assisted laser cutting is designed to take advantage of this high nitrogen concentration while taking advantage of the more dilute gas.
Benefits of Laser Air Assist
Laser cutting and engraving with air assist has been popular for nearly 20 years and is gaining popularity among CO2 laser cutters. Initially, mode quality was a major setback when compressed air was used for CO2 lasers, but over time this limitation has been minimized. In modern times, air assist has improved the ability of lasers to engrave some hard materials, including stainless steel and aluminum. Some of the benefits of air-assisted laser engraving include:
For businesses using CO2 laser engravers, air assist with compressed air can provide a significant return on investment. For many laser businesses, upgrading air assist for laser cutting is a more cost-effective way to expand laser cutting capabilities, increase maximum cut thickness, and achieve cleaner, less coking cuts.
The injected air quickly dissipates the extreme heat of the CO2 laser, reducing or eliminating oxide formation - the cause of scorch or burn marks on your precious laser cut products. Fighting coke at the source is far more effective than spending time on secondary clean-up operations.
reduce manufacturing cost
Pressurized air costs much less than nitrogen and oxygen. In some cases, the cost of using nitrogen or oxygen alone can account for as much as 90% of total operating costs. In fact, the cost of upgrading OMTech's laser air assist was much lower than expected. With a fairly simple upgrade kit, you can hook up a shop air compressor to create an industrial-grade air assist to enhance laser cutting.
Air assist can speed up your entire engraving operation. This is demonstrated by laser engraving experiments on all materials and thicknesses. According to an article in The Fabricator (January 2017), tests have shown that nitrogen can carve faster for materials thicker than 10 gauge, but in the mild steel range of 0.135 inches or thinner, pressurized air is faster than Nitrogen is about 3% faster. Additionally, it is approximately 22% faster for stainless steel from 0.750 to 0.036 inches and 14% faster for aluminum from 0.190 to 0.032 inches.
Although pressurized air is not the best gas for all laser cutting purposes, it does help improve the quality of the laser cut edge. For most powder coatings, wood, acrylics and other materials, air-assisted laser engraving produces very satisfactory edge quality.
Using laser air assist also reduces the risk of fire from debris, as potentially combustible materials are quickly blown away from the laser beam and the excess heat it generates.
Possible risks of not using air assistance
When your laser engraver is running, it produces some debris as well as fumes from the heat. This can be very dangerous as debris can start a fire, creating a fire risk. Smoke from heat has the following negative effects:
The smoke interacts with the beam energy in the direction of the laser, reducing the overall intensity and creating inconsistencies.
A lot of smoke can create residue around the laser engraver and anywhere else on the laser optics.
Fumes can create discoloration, residues and chemicals that can come into contact with your workpieces and reduce eye and respiratory comfort.
The flammability risk depends on the material, such as wood and some acrylics.
In conclusion, air assist is an important part of a CO2 laser engraver. It provides an efficient and smooth workflow without compromising the safety of the work environment. We hope this article gave you an idea of the importance of air-assisted laser engraving.