LASER cutting of intricate and small shapes is so demanding on sheet metal and other materials that software technology is often the one thing standing between a successful cut and wasted product, according to Advanced Sheetmetal Technologies (ASMT).
Managing director Ingo Bentrup says software engineered to operate lasers has to be in tune with the performance tolerances of all the materials it is likely to be cutting.
"Laser cutting generates large amounts of heat, so the overall objective is to be running a software programme that takes into account the heat susceptibility of the material being cut as well as its handling parameters," said Bentrup.
"Advanced and flexible software not only helps to avoid material wastage, the productivity gained through time savings and the lesser rates of damage to laser optics is very noticeable on the company's bottom line."
ASMT distributes such an advanced CAM software -- the JETCAM Expert CNC programming system.
It uses advanced Stored Expert Knowledge Technology (SEKT) system and is supplied in various configurations to suit any budget, production environment and machine technology.
Basically, customers experience two major problems during laser cutting which require advanced software such as JETCAM for rectification.
The first is normally encountered while cutting a smaller object such as a circle. Once it has been cut out the metal piece is expected to fall through a grate on the machine, but sometimes it doesn't and instead ends up sitting on the grate tipped at a 90° angle.
"Essentially, this creates a threat to the laser which may be tracking over it, but there are two possible solutions,” Bentrup says.
"Either you can lift the laser head on its Z-axis to move it onto the next cut position to avoid any chance of collision, but this takes a considerable amount of time.
"Or, a clever algorithm software will map areas that are already cut out and make sure the laser tracks around it. Running with the laser head down constantly you effectively gain 20-30% in processing speed."
The second major problem experienced during laser cutting is when shapes with minute detail are cut in small, concentrated areas. This causes a lot of heat build up.
Under these conditions the laser beam makes contact with the metal for much longer periods of time and if a few cuts are in close proximity the sheet can warp or buckle which causes the laser to act uncontrollably.
Software like JETCAM has active heat control and - when too much heat in one area is detected - will deliberately move to another, cooler area and return automatically to the initial area when the sheet temperature has dropped.