nitrogen laser applications

Laser Cutting with Nitrogen Gas – Plasma/Laser Cutting Air Assist

The industrial uses of nitrogen gas span a diverse range of manufacturing processes. From food and beverage manufacturing to applications in winemaking, electronic component manufacturing, and oil and gas (oil recovery, tank blanketing, and gas purging) operations, nitrogen gas usage has become indispensable.

Another key industrial application of nitrogen gas is in laser cutting operations.

In this process, the nitrogen gas is helps prevent the onset of oxidation on cut surfaces of steel, aluminum and titanium plates and also to purge the applied laser beam to ensure uniformity of the cutting process. In this article, we will define the process of laser cutting, and outline the benefits of applying nitrogen gas to the industrial manufacturing procedure.

What Is Laser Cutting?

Laser cutting is an industrial process where a powerful laser beam is used to cut metals such as carbon steel, stainless steel, titanium, and aluminum. In most laser cutting processes, a stream of gas known as “assist gas” is used to refine the cutting process and make it more efficient. When assist gases are used in laser cutting, the process is referred to as “gas-assisted laser cutting.”

nitrogen laser cutting

Different gases can be used in laser cutting applications either alone or as a mixture. The most common gases include:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Nitrogen
  • Air

The choice of assist gas to be used is determined by variables like material to be cut, the physical properties of the gas types, ease of sourcing, and the cost of procuring required amounts of assist gases.

CO2 Laser vs. Fiber Laser

Although carbon dioxide lasers and fiber lasers can be used to achieve similar purposes, fiber lasers offer some significant advantages over carbon dioxide lasers. Fiber lasers have a better safety profile than CO2 lasers as their beams are more likely to be absorbed than reflected. Also, fiber lasers can achieve cutting rates five times faster than conventional CO2 lasers and have comparatively lower operating costs.

What Is Plasma Cutting?

Plasma cutting is a metal processing technique where oxygen or nitrogen gas is combined with a high-temperature plasma arc to achieve metal cutting. The heat generated by the process creates incisions in metal sheets via the motion of high-speed plasma flow across their surfaces.

Application of Plasma Cutting

Although plasma cutting techniques can be used to slice all types of metals, these methods are mostly employed in shaping medium thickness metal sheets. Plasma cutting with nitrogen can be used to achieve narrow slot cuts with low heat deformation to the split metal edges.

plasma cutting stainless steel with nitrogen

Benefits of Air Assist Laser Cutting

Air assist laser cutting has been in use for over two decades and has some significant benefits when compared to other cutting techniques.

Return on Investment

Using air (especially nitrogen gas) to aid laser cutting provides a significant return on investment for operators who install them to cut stainless steel. Air assisted cutting technology will increase the productivity of the associated metal shaping processes.

Cleaner Cut Edges

Air assisted laser cutting produces even metal edges with less excess material deposition. When fiber lasers are combined with injected air, the cut surfaces are less jagged than regular cutting techniques. This is particularly important when metal parts are being used for their aesthetics in end products.

Increased Output from Rapid Cutting

Air-assisted laser cutting is a faster method of shaping metal materials – especially denser sheets. The improved speed of cutting will significantly boost production rates.

Decreased Procurement Costs

Compared to oxygen and nitrogen gas, the cost of using an air-assisted laser cutting unit is significantly lower. Utilizing ambient air to aid laser cutting procedures will eliminate the need for plant operators to procure nitrogen and oxygen and therefore keep overall production costs at a lower rate.

Laser Cutting with Nitrogen Gas

All metal laser cutting operations can be done using nitrogen gas. This inert gas is ideal for processes involving aluminum and its alloys, as well as stainless steel. The operation of a nitrogen assisted laser cutter is straightforward. The heat from the laser is used to melt the material at predetermined points, and then a jet of nitrogen gas is used to remove excess metal from the cut surfaces.

A significant benefit of nitrogen use is the absence of any additional heat-producing reactions as the gas is inert. This allows operators to achieve cleaner cuts at a rapid rate.

Laser Beam Purging

Another application of nitrogen directly related to a laser cutting procedure is the use of the gas to ensure uniformity of the laser beam directed at the metal material. Passing a stream of gaseous nitrogen through laser beam tubes will eliminate oxygen and any other impurities that might have altered the ability of the laser to produce a clean uniform cut.

Oxidation Prevention

Due to its inert nature, the application of nitrogen to a laser cutting process reduces the chances of undesirable oxidation occurring on the cut metal surfaces. Nitrogen gas will effectively displace oxygen from the metal surfaces and provide a high-quality finish, reducing prep time before welding.

Using a Nitrogen Generator for Laser Cutting

The most practical method of sourcing the nitrogen required in laser cutting procedures is on-site nitrogen generators. Laser nitrogen generators are cost-effective long term solutions for operators using the gas to efficiently shape metal sheets. Once installed, these machines will provide nitrogen on demand and eliminate the need for gas cylinder storage or transportation costs.

NiGen Provides Dependable Nitrogen Generation Solutions

At NiGen, we offer top-notch nitrogen generation systems for a broad range of industrial processes. Our nitrogen generators and installation services are designed to help cater to all nitrogen supply requirements. We also offer nitrogen generator rentals for short term applications.

Contact us online today for a quote on our generators or process air equipment and services!