We’ve taken a look at how laser cutters work, and uncovered some incredible facts about laser cutting in some of our posts so far. We’ve also looked at how both technologies can be used to great effect within smaller businesses, and how to start a business with your laser cutter or– but we haven’t taken a look at how they are used in different industries worldwide.
There are some really interesting applications of using both laser cutters (of all types) and in industry, as well as in schools, universities, and training programmes for each of these industries. In this post, we’re taking a look at some of the ways different industries are making use of these incredible machines.
Why do industries use laser cutters?
There are many specific reasons that different industries use laser cutters, and we’ll get to covering some of those when we start digging into the different industries. But there are a few overarching reasons that can be applied to almost every industry, and these advantages add up to major time and cost savings for the businesses involved. Let’s do a quick roundup of the advantages of using a laser cutter:
Flexibility: Compared with manual methods, laser cutters aren’t anywhere nearly as complicated to set up, and it is relatively easy to switch between cutting different shapes and thicknesses of material.
Accuracy: There may be some master craftsmen in the world that can create results that are as precise as a laser cutter, but they are few and far between, and they take far longer to create those pieces. With a laser cutter, intricate, detailed cuts and shapes are easy to create, and most machines are accurate to within 0.1mm, reducing post-cut treatments to nothing.
Speed: Laser cutters are incredibly fast, and compared with manual methods, there are no comparison – especially with those detailed cuts, and the fact that businesses can eliminate the post-cut processes that would normally be required.
Replicability: Many industries need to be able to create a number of the same products, and reproduced laser cut products are the same to within 0.05mm. This means that each item is as close to identical as possible without needing to use a mould, which is much slower.
Automation: With manual cuts, the chances of errors occurring is high – but because the laser is automated, the chance of a mistake is much lower. Where a business has a feeding system for the laser cutter, even more speed and accuracy can be achieved.
Outstanding finishes: Manual methods generally require a lot of post-cut processing – filing, sanding, polishing and so on. With laser cutting, the cut is precise, usually with a clean edge that doesn’t need any further finishing.
Versatility: Laser cutters can be used to cut a range of materials (depending on the type of laser cutter that the business has) and there are different techniques that can be used, such as engraving and laser marking. This means that one machine can help to eliminate the need to use multiple other machines.
What types of laser cutters are used in industry?
When we’re talking about laser cutters throughout this post, it is important to remember that there are different types of laser cutter, and different industries will use different types of laser cutter, depending on what material they are cutting. We talked about each type in a bit more depth in this post, but a quick reminder:
Gas lasers – also known as CO2 lasers, tend to be used with wood, acrylic, glass, paper, textiles, plastics, some types of foils & films, leather, stone.
Crystal lasers – also referred to as nd:YAG and nd:YVO, depending on the crystal. These types of laser cutters can be used with metals, coated metals, plastics, and for some ceramics.
Fibre lasers – also referred to as solid state lasers. These lasers can be used with metals, coated metals, and plastics.
When you start to think about the amount of parts that go into making any kind of vehicle – from a simple bicycle, through to a spacecraft – it makes sense that the transport industry make use of laser cutters extensively. Replicability is one of the biggest reasons, especially for vehicles that are mass produced. But bespoke parts that are required may be cut with lasers too, since a laser cutter is able to easily cut a piece that would take significantly longer to manufacture by other methods.
In addition to speed, laser cutters can help to make parts much, much lighter. Whether it is a part for the interior, bodywork, or the engine, many parts can be made from lighter materials if they are cut using laser cutters. This is important in terms of increasing fuel efficiency, but is also often a key concern for the business in terms of costs, and for reducing the carbon footprint of the vehicle, which is a factor that many customers are now concerned about.
Aviation and aerospace
Every gram counts when building vehicles that are going into the air, so it is no surprise that both the aviation industry – both civilian and military – and the aerospace industry, including NASA, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX are making extensive use of laser cutters. The main way that the aviation and aerospace industry use laser cutting is for creating component parts. Parts that have been created or repaired using laser cutters include turbines, compressors, and bladed disks, as well as hundreds of parts for the interior of the aircraft. Because laser cutting is fast, designers can create prototypes quickly for testing.
In addition to parts that have to be cut using a laser cutter, there are also tooling parts that need to be created, and fixtures – and of course, any type of aircraft needs all their parts to meet stringent safety standards. Laser cutting reduces the chances of any microfractures when compared with mechanical cutting methods, which decreases the chances of the parts failing and causing an accident.
The beauty of laser cutting is that it can be used (often in conjunction with 3D modelling and 3D printing) to reverse manufacture, or to reproduce parts that were previously obsolete and out of date. This has resulted in vintage aircraft that has been salvaged and restored, to be able to take to the skies once again.
There are a wide range of materials that go into building parts for aircraft. Metals such as stainless steel, titanium and nickel alloys are commonly used in the aviation and aerospace industry, as well as lightweight plastics, safety glass, and insulating materials, so businesses that are designing or cutting parts are likely to need more than one type of laser cutter to carry out the work that they are doing.
From the time that Henry Ford started the first production line of road-going cars in the early 1900s, vehicle manufacturers have looked for ways to streamline processes, reduce costs, and to make their vehicles more efficient. When laser cutters became widely available, it was no surprise that the automotive industry found ways to make the most of the technology.
The desire to cut weight in a vehicle is always an issue – whether that is in order to increase speed by reducing drag, or to reduce the amount of fuel required and to improve the carbon footprint of the vehicle. Being able to use the laser cutter means that innovative, more streamlined shapes and lighter materials can be created, for a much more aerodynamic, and fuel efficient vehicle.
There are a wide range of materials that go into creating parts for all kinds of road vehicles, from motorbikes to lorries and coaches. Lightweight aluminium, steel, fibre-reinforced materials, plastics, leather, and safety glass are required to be cut or have etching or engraving – and so many manufacturers will work with at least two types of laser cutter in their design facilities and factory at any given time.
In the luxury car sector, particularly when companies are marketing vehicles to customers where money is no object, laser cutters are used for customising the car to the specification they require. Laser engraving monograms on headrests, company logos or family crests on dashboard leather, and creating a bespoke pattern on the interiors are all possible with laser cutters. For luxury car manufacturers that already have laser cutters available, this is a relatively straightforward service to offer their wealthy clients, with the potential for a decent profit.
It isn’t just the commercial vehicle sector that make use of laser cutters. The motorsport industry, including Formula 1, are well known for their use of both laser cutters and 3D printers for creating parts. By travelling with a laser cutter and a 3D printer, and having access to the design files for the car remotely, teams no longer have to carry spare parts, or depend on costly express couriers to deliver parts to whichever circuit they are racing that weekend.
As with vintage planes, the use of laser cutters and 3D printers have also helped vintage car enthusiasts to restore vehicles and get them running again, even where parts are no longer commonly manufactured. Whether the parts are reverse engineered, or the specification for the parts are available, laser cutter businesses can work with those to produce spare parts on a one-off basis, with the advantage that once the design file is created, if the part is required to be made again, it can be done so quickly.
Shipping and marine industry
The shipbuilding industry is expected to surpass $186.6 billion by 2025 due to the requirements of the ecommerce industry and to get the world’s supply chain working efficiently again post-pandemic. With new vessels, refits and redeployment, there are a huge number of required parts!
Building ocean-going vessels require many types of machining, with engineering that is equally as precise as road and air vehicles. The main difference is that the materials that are required for yachts, boats, and ships of all shapes and sizes need to be carefully assessed due to the fact that sea water is so corrosive. Metals such as high grade stainless steel, and marine grade aluminium that contains magnesium, manganese and chromium are commonly used for parts that are ocean-facing, as well as plastics, safety glass, and leather for the interior of the vessel.
It isn’t just parts for building ships and yachts though – marine buoys, chains, and marine research equipment can be created using laser cutters, and laser welding is incredibly beneficial too.
The use of laser cutters in the maritime industry is similar to some other industries, such as the aviation industry, with concerns about pressure and so on. The main difference is the need to work with higher grade stainless steel plates, and the size of the parts that need to be created. Because of this, manufacturers of parts for the shipping and marine industries are also likely to have several different laser cutters at their disposal, for working with different materials. And bearing in mind that the size of the elements that the marine industry works with are significantly larger, the size of the laser cutting machines in shipbuilding are much, much bigger too. These machines are able to reduce production time and costs though, and replace die-cutting methods that would require large moulds, so it is well worth ship building companies investing in them.
Construction and architecture
As with many other industries, laser cutting has become a valuable asset for construction industry professionals that are testing ideas and creating prototypes. In modern construction projects, laser cutters are helping planners to improve upon their initial designs and to identify any errors before the build begins.
In addition to prototypes, laser cutting allows the construction industry to quickly gain access to bespoke parts, whether they are one-off pieces for specific purposes, or the company requires a high volume of parts for a particular project. As with other industries, laser cutting reduces the amount of waste that is created, and so is better for the carbon footprint of the project. Pre-fabrication construction is also becoming popular, and laser cutting allows parts to be easily manufactured, and very easily replicated, saving time and energy compared with other methods of manufacturing.
Given the large number of different types of materials that are used in the construction industry, it is unsurprising that each type of laser cutter – gas, fibre, and crystal – are used for different purposes. Metals that are used in the construction industry include stainless steel and mild steel, and non-ferrous metals such as aluminium, brass and copper, and these can be cut with a fibre laser cutter. Plastics and natural materials such as wood, stone, and leathers can be cut with a gas laser cutter.
The range of techniques and effects that can be achieved quickly and easily means that builders can offer decorative metalwork, signs and panelling, and bespoke designs such as for staircases that would cost far more if they were being created by hand.
The medical field – whether dealing with humans or animals – has embraced laser cutting technology with open arms. Considering the levels of accuracy required, that isn’t surprising. Creating solutions, as well as specific tools to help complete complex operations, and parts for machinery are both key ways that both the medical industry, and the veterinary industry use laser cutters to help them care for their patients – whether they are human or animal.
The advantages that laser cutting offers the medical industry are the same in many cases to those in engineering. It isn’t just the precision accuracy that is required – speed, replicability and costs are all essential factors. Laser cutting provides all of these things, as well as perfectly cut edges that require no additional finishing, and no distortion of the material being cut, no matter which material is being cut.
Laser cutting technology allows medical professionals to be more creative with solutions for their patients, while keeping costs much lower than they might be with other techniques – which is an essential consideration when we think how many people and animals there are in the world! When medical professionals need to create a part that will reside inside a living body, the part needs to be as accurate as possible. Today, thanks to 3D modelling techniques, and laser cutting, replacing bones and body parts such as hips is much safer than it once was, and with laser engraving, vital information can be added to the piece to ensure the chance of mistakes are much smaller.
It isn’t just creating replacement body parts and surgical tools that the medical industry need to be concerned with though. Smaller, but no less critical items such as hearing aids, orthopaedic insoles, and aids to help people with disabilities can be created for each individual at much lower cost than before laser cutting became available. Because these parts are bespoke, they are less likely to cause issues such as rubbing or blistering, which can save the medical industry further costs by preventing issues that might require medical assistance.
Finally, although the way in which the field of medicine and dentistry use lasers for cutting body parts is different to the type of laser cutters we’re talking about, it is worth noting that lasers have been used in medicine since 1961, and have been commercially used in dental practice since 1989 for treating and removing both hard tissue, and soft tissues inside the mouth. The medical industry has also been using 3D printing extensively, using metal 3D printing solutions to create dental prostheses, reducing the need for plaster casts or silicone imprints due to digital modelling.
The number of electronics in existence today is astounding, yet we continue to demand more from our technology. We want smaller devices, with more features, and more aesthetically pleasing designs for items like phones, laptops, and wearable tech – and demand is high. When you think about what laser cutters have to offer in terms of speed, accuracy, and replicability, it just makes sense that they are being used to create our electronic devices. This is particularly advantageous for the communication semiconductor industry, and consumer electronics manufacturing.
Processes for mobile phone manufacturing, cutting 3D glass and TV panels, and permanent marking can be done by laser cutters in very little time, allowing companies to reduce counterfeiting. With laser engraving, there can be increases to the value of the product, as the item can look even higher end.
As in other industries, laser cutters are used extensively for creating prototypes for electronics – and as soon as the files are finalised, they can be sent to be cut instantly, speeding up the development process as well as the manufacturing process. Since there are many different types of plastic and metals that are used for creating electronics, depending on what the business is currently working on, multiple laser cutters may be required, or a fibre laser cutter may be used.
It isn’t just electronics for communication and entertainment that can benefit from laser cutting – things like electronic security measures for homes and offices, such as security cameras, door handles, and door release technology are required in their thousands. This type of electronic device has to be incredibly precise, which is where laser cutters come in.
Furniture and lighting
Handmade furniture and lighting can be wonderful, but they are time consuming to create, which also means expensive. Manual processes, even when done perfectly, aren’t always as accurate as the craftsperson might like, and some modern design effects simply cannot be achieved with hand tools – and so craftspeople are now turning to laser cutters to be able to create those effects.
Like many other industries, laser cutting has revolutionised companies that make furniture and lighting, from bespoke one-off pieces, to mass-produced flatpack furniture. Anyone who bought cheap flatpack furniture in the past will be familiar with wonky doors, or parts that don’t quite fit together as they should! When the company uses a laser cutter to produce their parts, they can be made exactly the same with very little difference between parts, much more accurately and quickly than using mechanical cutting methods.
When creating bespoke furniture, laser cutters allow manufacturers to create more detailed designs and patterns, such as for wardrobe doors and head boards for beds, as well as personalising office furniture with company logos and so on.
Lighting designers are certainly making the most of laser cutters too, creating light shades out of plastics and metals that would previously only been possible to make out of fabrics. Although the fabric designs would have had a similar visual effect, the harder materials offer the customer the advantage of being easier to clean, and much longer lasting and hard wearing.
Energy and utility industries
While the energy sector is in crisis somewhat at the time of writing, the majority of power stations, renewable energy sources and the National Grid all use laser cutting to maintain their infrastructure. High quality machined parts are essential for the electricity and gas industries to continue to work efficiently – and once again, the precision that laser cutters provide is necessary for this purpose.
In countries where infrastructure is dated, or needs to be maintained for a while longer, using laser cutters to create parts can help keep the power on.
The requirement for high quality parts is the same across the water management, the gas and oil industries and waste management industries – and laser cutters can produce those obsolete parts where necessary.
The fashion industry have always been early adopters of new techniques, experimenting with them to create new effects, and laser cutting is absolutely no exception. Designers have discovered ways that laser cutters can be used to innovate, and to start reducing the impact of the industry on the environment – a great example is laser based denim fading that has a much lower environmental impact than stonewashing or acid effects.
Clothing and accessory manufacturing
Cutting fabrics is just the first point at which designers and manufacturers are using laser cutters for creating clothing and accessories. There are a huge number of fabrics that can be cut with lasers, from natural fabrics like cotton, silk, and leather, to manufactured fabrics such as Tencel, viscose, and polyester. The relatively low point of entry to owning a laser cutter means that even start-up manufacturers can invest in one, providing their own designs, but also offering their customers services such as monogramming initials on accessories such as wallets and bags.
Because all designs that a clothing designer creates can be stored and replicated in the future, there are opportunities to retire designs, and then reintroduce them to artificially create demand for those products. Brands might also create similar designs, but with smaller variations on the original, such as adding laser engraving or detailing.
Lasers can be used to create intricate effects such as lace detailing that would otherwise have taken craftspeople hours to make by hand (if it were possible at all), and the concept tested. Laser cut detailing is extremely popular, and luxury brands including Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, and Christian Louboutin are all known to use laser cutters for products across their ranges. The laser cutter can lower the cost of making intricately detailed items, or the laser cut item can be used as a prototype before crafters make the product by hand – such as where the product is to be made from highly detailed lace, for example.
Because of the types of fabrics that are most commonly used in clothing manufacturing, gas laser cutters are the most commonly used laser cutters in the fashion industry.
Watches and jewellery manufacturing
Search online for laser cutter and jewellery, and you’ll quickly discover how popular laser cut jewellery, designing it, and making it at home really is – so it makes perfect sense that professionals in the watchmaking and jewellery industry are using laser cutters to create their designs too.
The size of watches and pieces of jewellery mean that creating tiny details by hand are difficult, or impossible. With a laser cutter, those details and designs are relatively easy to create, and there is a much lower risk of issues such as material contamination, or the material becoming warped.
Of course, it isn’t just cutting of materials that watch and jewellery makers use their laser cutters for. Engraving has been a service that many jewellers have offered for years, but today, laser engraving techniques means that handwriting, photos and even fingerprints can be replicated and engraved onto a piece of jewellery, giving much deeper meaning to pieces such as a wedding ring, or a memorial piece for when a loved one has passed.
Depending on the type of material the jeweller is working with, there may be a need to have more than one type of laser cutter – a gas laser cutter is fine for acrylics, leathers, woods, and stones, but a fibre laser is likely to be required where metals are to be cut.
It is pretty clear that the range of ways that laser cutters can be used is diverse, and varies widely across different industries. Whether their application is essential for life today, or purely for aesthetic purposes such as in the fashion industry, laser cutters can help businesses to innovate further. It isn’t just innovation though – laser cutters also help to dramatically reduce the amount of time required to product items, cutting costs, and allowing businesses to increase their profits, or to pass on the savings to their customers. If you’re looking to make these types of savings in your business, or to invest in your first laser cutter, browse our range, and if you need additional help making your purchase decision, get in touch! We’re happy to guide you, and to ensure the laser cutter you choose is the right one for your needs.