Don't Fear the Exotic

Most fabricators who avoid working with exotic metals do so out of fear or intimidation.  They are afraid of causing damage to their laser machine and intimidated at the thought of ruining expensive metal. Due to high temperatures required for heating and shaping of parts exotic metals are very costly to manufacture and process. When processing such expensive material every part, remnant, and scrap must be accounted for as well as material heat and lot numbers.  Questions such as: How many parts did we get out of the sheet? How much scrap? and How big are the remnants? must constantly be addressed.

Simply put, fabricators who avoid cutting exotic metals are concerned with losing money.  This fear is rooted in a lack of experience and exposure to the process. This is because few lasers, if any, are delivered equipped for cutting exotic metals. While they generally include standard cutting conditions for steel, aluminum, mild steel, and often galvanized metal, no laser comes with preloaded conditions for exotic metals. Consequently most fabricators have neither the experience nor the resources needed to cut exotic metals. 

The simple fact is that most business owners and laser operators over complicate the process.  When processing exotic metals on a laser the same variables that most experienced operators are familiar with still apply.  Focal position, nozzle centering, proper nozzle selection, nozzle gap, assist gas type and pressure, power, frequency, duty and feed rate all influence the piercing, cutting and cut quality of exotic metals just like they do their more common place counterparts.  Do variables like hardness, heat absorption, reflection, vaporization rate, etc. more directly influence laser cutting exotic metals?  Sure they do, but general speaking cutting speed is the variable that is most impacted. 

The key thing to remember whether you have a CO2 or Fiber laser is that you have a machine tool that is more than capable of processing nearly all of the aforementioned exotics.  A recommendation is to request a small sample piece from the customer to do some experimental cutting with.  This is a two-fold benefit; it gives you and your laser operators a chance to “test the waters” before you commit to the job and it should yield samples for your potential customer to inspect and test for quality and to observe any heat affects from the laser process.  Be prepared to return all of the remnants and any unsuccessful first attempts.