Lasers are everywhere these days. There are many different types of laser machines that are used to engrave, etch or mark, and cut a broad range of materials in many different industries. At the heart of each laser machine, there is a laser source. CO2, fiber and vanadate lasers are among the most widely used. Each laser source has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and will be best suited to process different types of materials. Here is an overview of the different laser types and a guide for selecting which type is best for your application.
CO2 lasers are gas composed systems containing a mixture of carbon dioxide that is stimulated electrically. They are best suited for processing non-metallic materials as well as most plastics, and offer a wavelength of 10.6 micrometers. CO2 systems are the most widely used laser type because of their relatively high efficiency and superior beam quality.
Fiber laser sources are solid state machines that generate its beam by means of the "seed" laser and amplify it in specially designed glass fibers, which are supplied with energy through pump diodes. Offering a wavelength of 1.064 micrometers, fiber systems produce an extremely small focal diameter that results in intensity up to 100 times higher than a CO2 system, but by emitting similar power.
Fiber laser are ideally suited for metal marking applications such as engraving, annealing, and high-contrast plastic markings. Fiber systems feature a long service life with a minimum of 25,000 laser hours, and in general are maintenance-free machines.
Within the fiber laser family there is a MOPA laser which operates by pulse durations that are adjustable. This operation makes the MOPA system one of the most flexible lasers on the market and it can be used for a variety applications.
Fiber lasers are ideally suited to process the following materials: Metals, coated metals, plastics
Similar to fiber lasers, crystal lasers are solid-state systems ideal for marking applications, and are typically pumped by diodes. Amongst these system, the most common type within this category are Nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet) and Nd:YVO (neodymium-doped yttrium ortho-vanadate). YAG systems are named after the doping element neodymium and the carrier crystal, and offer 1.064 micrometers. Crystal laser systems also have similar wavelengths as fiber machines, and therefore are also suited for marking plastics and metals.
Crystal laser systems use relatively expensive pump diodes that wear on parts, and also require replacement after approximately 8,000-15,000 laser hours. Additionally, these systems have a shorter service life compared to fiber systems.
Crystal lasers are ideally suited for processing the following materials: Metals, coated metals, plastics, and also ceramic.