Technology can do a lot, from solving complex math problems to mapping a genome, and the list goes on and on. What truly blows the mind is the fact that most possible uses for technology haven’t even been discovered yet.
One aspect of technology that is particularly fascinating–just ask a science fiction writer–is the use of lasers. While some dream of weaponizing them, most of the world seems content to use them for research and production purposes.
The use we’re going to concern ourselves with today is the use of lasers to cut metal, often for industrial workshops. How does a laser cutter work? What is it about this beam of what appears just to be a concentrated light that allows it to separate metal?
What is a Laser?
At the heart of it all is this one question. What is a laser?
For those of you who believe that a laser is basically just a beam of light, you’re right. The word ‘laser’ in and of itself is an acronym. The full name is ‘light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.’
What all this means is that, yes, lasers are just light, but they’re sort of like fireworks. It’s light that takes on a slightly different color based on the elements that make it up. Granted, most lasers used in metal cutting are made with carbon dioxide, which can’t be seen by humans, so it’ll be invisible to you.
So, How Does a Laser Cutter Work?
All light is composed of energy, and all energy generates some measure of heat. When the light waves are spread out, so is the heat. By extension, concentrating the light also concentrates the heat.
Have you ever done that experiment in school where you use the sun and a magnifying glass to carve wood? Cutting metal is the same basic premise, except that it’s a lot harder to melt metal than it is to burn wood.
That’s what metal cutting is, melting the material so quickly and cleanly that it looks like it’s been cut in half.
Naturally, the equipment for this process is a lot larger and more complex than for carving wood. It’s also a lot more dangerous.
A Cut Above
Metal cutting may come with a lot of intimidating machinery, but the process is a lot simpler than all of that equipment might make you think. How does a laser cutter work? It just uses a beam of heat to burn through a material, just like a magnifying glass on wood.
The equipment exists because metal is notoriously difficult to melt or mold. Just ask a blacksmith.
The good news is that unlike a blacksmith, you don’t have to get to the heat or the metal, and you don’t have to spend hours hitting it with a hammer, although that probably helps with managing stress.