Laser engraving takes a whole new form with air assist. It is an effective and very efficient laser engraving technique, and it’s safer too as it averts burns. In air assist for the laser cutter, high-pressure air is blown to the workpiece as it’s being laser engraved or laser cut. Let’s find out more about air assist, how it’s done, and the benefits of this technique in laser cutting and engraving in this article.
What is an Air Assist? How does Air- Assisted laser cutting work?
Laser cutting and laser engraving used to be risky, especially for beginners. You can get burned if you’re not careful, and likewise, your workpiece may also suffer the same fate. You could end up wasting materials, energy, and money for every mistake you make.
Air assist helps you protect your workpiece and yourself from severe burns. High-pressure nitrogen gas or oxygen gas is used to blow onto the piece to prevent worrisome burns and mistakes. And for a cost-effective alternative, pressurized air may also be used on air-assisted laser head units.
How does it work?
1998 marked the year when air-assisted laser engraving was first used, but way back, carbon dioxide lasers were used. Workers found out that CO2 lasers worked much more efficiently when partnered with air assist.
When air is introduced, an exothermic reaction happens. This is a chemical reaction that produces energy using heat or light. Using gasses or pressurized air allows more efficient heat transfer compared to using only laser beams. Therefore, air assist for laser cutter technologies made cutting and engraving tasks cleaner, smoother, and a lot faster.
Oxygen was initially the ideal gas preferred for laser engraving, but soon, nitrogen became a better choice as it cools the workpiece and creates cleaner and seamless edges. Nitrogen gas is the choice in industries that needed more aesthetic, and high-quality pieces were needed. But nitrogen gas is very expensive, which is why pressurized air became the standard economical air-assist option.
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Why is air assist essential to laser cutting and engraving?
Air assist is very popular among engravers and cutters who use CO2 laser systems. It has enhanced the capabilities of CO2 laser engraving, especially when working with tough and dense materials like aluminum and stainless steel.
- Air assist through pressurized gas improves profitability in businesses that rely on CO2 laser cutters and engravers and in air assist for diode lasers.
- There’s very little need to perform extreme clean-up after the task as air assist does not create oxide formations on the workpiece.
- Expect reduced production cost when pressurized air is used compared to nitrogen and oxygen gas.
- Air assist enhances engraving and cutting efficiency on different materials with carefully monitored laser air-assist PSI.
- You’ll get higher edge quality for all types of material using all types of gasses.
- Air assist is safer as there is less risk of debris fire. Air will reduce excess heat given off by different materials and blows away combustible materials as well.
Using only traditional laser cutting or engraving is risky both for the user/cutter/engraver and the workpiece. When a laser engraver or cutter is working, it can create debris and smoke because of the extreme heat.
The smoke coming from the workpiece can affect the laser beam’s energy path. This can reduce the strength and the efficiency of the laser. Smoke also creates dust residue all around the engraver, especially on the optics.
This also causes discoloration and added residue on the workpiece and thus creates an unpleasant outcome. Finally, there is an increased risk of flames and burns, especially on materials like acrylics and wood. Smoke can sting and irritate your eyes and cause inflammation of the respiratory tissues.
When should Air Assist be used as an assist gas in laser cutting?
Air assist should be used on all types of laser cutting and laser engraving tasks. It is an efficient way to cut and engrave all kinds of materials, plus it saves you time, money, and materials. Air assist can make laser engraving and cut safer.
If you have an unlimited budget, you can use oxygen or nitrogen gas for air assist, but if you have a limited budget, pressurized gas will do.
Air assist laser cutter maintenance
The following techniques will help you maintain your air assist laser cutter or laser air assist kit so it can last longer.
Clean the fan units periodically
Most materials like wood, MDF, and acrylic will release fumes, residues, and oils which can affect the cutter’s performance. Remove all debris on the extraction fans by disconnecting from the power supply before cleaning.
Check obstruction on the air assist compressor filtration components
Remove any debris from the laser air assist compressor, filtration components, air assist nozzle, and the laser air assist pump as these can affect normal function. There must be a suitable amount of air moving through the nozzle. Not enough air will affect air-assist functions and may increase the risk of fires. Check for detached air assist nozzle.
Lubricate the cutter/engraver runners
Poorly lubricated runners can cause early wear and tear. Inspect the components regularly and test the beam for alignment or weakening.
Clean the optics at least every 10 to 40 hours of use
Dirty and cloudy optics can affect overall beam strength. Clean the optics regularly to avoid damage to the lenses and the material. Use an IPA solution for cleaning or acetone and some cotton buds.
Watch out for chiller performance
Water chillers will keep water temperature constant and will prevent overheating of the tube. Check chiller performance and any changes in temperature on display. Always use distilled water or deionized water to avoid any impurities that can clog pipes and affect workpieces.
Check for CO2 laser air-assist upgrade
Upgrades will help you maintain your cutter or engraver better. Register your laser cutter to get timely updates.
Air assist for laser cutters and engravers has a lot of advantages. It enhances safety, improves efficiency, and saves you money, time, and material. Air assist will keep users safe from burns and will prevent smoke from clouding the lens and affecting workpiece quality. Finally, learning how to care for your air assist laser cutter and engraver will give you years and years of laser cutting efficiency and convenience. No matter this technology is used by most companies and is standard in the manufacturing industry.