In a previous blog post we looked at laser cutting and assist gasses focusing specifically on the use of nitrogen. While it has many advantages, any fabricator who has processed metal with it knows that nitrogen is anything but cheap. In fact, on some jobs the cost of the gas alone can run as high as 90% of the total operating cost.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to nitrogen assist gas; and one of the most popular is shop air.
Fab shops, job shops, service centers, and OEMs with fiber lasers or those processing stainless steel should investigate the use of air. From a cost perspective, air has many advantages.
For starters, air is considerably less expensive than both nitrogen and oxygen. But that’s not all. With its faster cutting, air is shown to increase throughput measurably. Finally, shop air has a positive effect on secondary clean-up operations. The intense heat generated by fiber lasers, combined with injected air, creates cuts without oxide forming on the surface. This clean cut greatly reduces, or even eliminates, the need for grinding and similar operations.
Is it Right for You?
So, these are a few of the advantages. But the question is – is shop air the best assist gas for you?
Air generally produces a laser-cut edge quality that is comparable to those cut with oxygen or nitrogen. And, while air is most often used to cut thin material, many stainless parts, especially those used in assemblies, are candidates for air-assist laser cutting.
Still there are times when nitrogen remains the best gas choice. Nitrogen produces a cleaner cut and those serving customers requiring the highest quality and tolerances. Those serving the medical, food processing, and aerospace industries for example should continue their use of the nitrogen. Additionally, some cosmetic parts would not be the best candidates for air-assist cutting.