The role of nitrogen in CO2 and fibre laser cutting

In metal fabrication, all laser machines use some form of auxiliary gas in the cutting process, including CO2 and fiber lasers. While there are other options, nitrogen is the most commonly used auxiliary gas, representing an essential component of laser cutting, which can account for up to 60% of the operating cost.

In this article we are going to tell you about this important player in day-to-day laser cutting operations, detailing what the role of nitrogen is and how manufacturers can reduce supply costs.

How is nitrogen gas used in laser cutting?

Nitrogen is one of the most widely used industrial gases in industry and plays a crucial role in laser cutting of metals.

To summarise, it could be said that nitrogen has two main applications in laser cutting processes:

  • As an auxiliary gas to help prevent oxidation.
  • As a purge gas in CO2 machines.

Nitrógeno para máquina láser

Use of nitrogen to prevent oxidation

The main benefit of using nitrogen as an auxiliary gas is to prevent oxidation of the material. This results in a higher quality finish and helps reduce preparation time for secondary operations such as welding and painting.

Oxidation occurs when oxygen mixes with ambient moisture to create corrosion. Pressurised nitrogen displaces oxygen in the cutting path while reducing heat. Oxidation can affect the surface appearance of the finished product, but also the cut edge. Nitrogen is also used to produce a clean edge, which reduces residual material and burr.

Casos de éxito fibra láser

The role of nitrogen in laser beam purging

Nitrogen is also used for the purging of laser beams on CO2 machines. In all laser cutting processes, a clear laser beam is necessary to avoid irregularities and to ensure productivity. The use of nitrogen is suitable for laser cutting metal. In the case of large format and high power CO2 lasers, nitrogen can be used to cut some materials such as polycarbonate. For cutting wood or acrylic, nitrogen is not normally used.

Nitrogen helps prevent beam contamination by purging the beam "path" and expelling moisture, CO2 and other contaminants that would affect the laser. It also helps to keep water-cooled lenses and mirrors ree of dirt, water vapour and so on.

Nitrógeno para máquina láser

Nitrogen supply options

Nitrogen is an essential consumable that must be supplied by a reliable source. Basically, there are two options for obtaining nitrogen:

  • Outsourced supply.
  • Nitrogen generator systems.

Subcontracting the supply of nitrogen gas

The traditional method of obtaining gaseous nitrogen is through the use of an external supplier. Depending on your needs, this can be very expensive.

It will be essential to ensure that the supplier is reliable and to consider aspects such as delivery, storage and space. Large packages often offer discounts, but storage and the handling of the materials can become a problem.

Buying nitrogen in bulk may be a more cost-effective route, but it is still essential to make arrangements for a large outdoor storage tank. In addition, good quality piping must be installed to bring the gas to the laser machine.

Outsourcing supply also brings certain challenges, such as potential price volatility, taxes, environmental charges, health and safety issues and delivery constraints.

On-site nitrogen generation systems

The Nitrogen generators are a great option, especially for fiber laser that typically require higher power consumption. On-site nitrogen generation systems allow you to produce all the nitrogen you need, when you need it. In addition to controlling your supply, this option has a lower cost compared to an outsourced supplier. It is suitable for cutting thin metal thicknesses up to 4 mm.

In the long run, investing in a nitrogen generator may be one of the best ways to reduce laser operating costs and improve operational efficiency.

Now that you know a little better what a laser machine looks like on the inside, we encourage you to learn about the other differences between CO2 lasers and fibre lasers. Are you using the one that's right for you?

Casos de éxito fibra láser

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