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Don’t look in the mirror – When cutting thin materials, fiber lasers run circles around CO2

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CO2 lasers have long been the 800-pound gorilla in many fabricating shops. But manufacturers are beginning to ignore that hairy ape in favour of fiber lasers, which are often faster and cheaper to operate than their established cousins.

One such shop is Edalica Metal Services Ltd., Mississauga, ON, which recently purchased a fiber laser cutting machine, the Fibermak, built by Turkish firm Ermaksan Machinery and distributed in Canada by Ferric Machinery, Mississauga, ON.

Koen Verschingel, owner of Ferric Machinery, says fiber technology offers many advantages. “Consider energy use—fiber lasers consume roughly one-third as much electricity as do CO2 lasers. So aside from the 60-70 per cent savings in daily operating costs, there’s no need to install an additional breaker or run a new power feed as we’ve seen in some CO2 shops. You can usually just plug in a fiber machine and go.”

Maintenance is another big feather in a fiber laser’s cap. Verschingel explains that, because CO2 lasers require mirrors and a rotating turbine to perform their metal cutting magic, they incur higher costs and downtime: replacement and cleaning of o-rings, filters and optics, as well as mirror alignment and adjustment of the power supply and other components means you’ll be servicing a CO2 laser more frequently than the family car. “With a CO2 laser, you have to start rebuilding it at 12,000 hours, at a cost of $10-$15K per cycle. By comparison, the lifetime on a fiber laser generator is upwards of 100,000 hours, with virtually no maintenance required during that time,” says Verschingel.

There’s also no need for laser gas with a fiber machine, further reducing operating expense. Says Verschingel, “average cost on a fiber runs around $5/hour, while CO2 can run 2-1/2 times that.” Consider as well the increased productivity of a fiber machine—according to the Laser Institute of America’s website, a 3 kW fiber laser can cut 1 mm thick stainless steel at about 30 m/min, whereas a comparably priced 5 kW CO2 machine achieves only one-third of this speed.

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