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The Comprehensive History of Laser Cutting

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Laser cutting is a popular fabrication technology that uses an exacting laser beam to cut materials, such as aluminum, carbon steel, glass, plastic, stainless steel, superalloys and wood, into custom shapes and designs. Known for its precision and efficiency, laser cutting presents a reliable solution for machining geometrically-complex projects.

In this post, we explore the early history of laser cutting and examine the advancements that laid the groundwork for the laser cutting technologies used today.

The Invention of Laser Cutting

Kumar Patel invented the CO2 laser in 1964 while working at Bell Labs, but the history of laser cutting technology can be traced back to 1917, when theoretical physicist Albert Einstein predicted stimulated emission, a vital process for laser action. Although Patel neither conceptualized the laser (who should receive this credit remains a tricky subject) nor created the first laser (that honor belongs to Theodore Maiman), his CO2 laser was the first to produce continuous high-power radiation. 

More cost-effective and efficient than earlier ruby lasers, CO2 lasers quickly became the most popular industrial lasers. This popularity can be attributed — in part — to the rapid technological evolution that followed Patel’s invention. 

In 1965, Western Electric unveiled a production laser capable of drilling holes in diamond dies. Two years later, Peter Houldcroft of The Welding Institute developed a laser cutting nozzle and used an oxygen-assisted CO2 laser to cut steel sheets of up to 2.5 mm thick at speeds approaching 1m/min. While the original CO2 laser’s power output was only one milliwatt, the power output of the laser used by Houldcroft reached 800 watts. 

Following Houldcroft’s successful experiments, companies around the globe licensed laser cutting technology, furthering the evolution of laser-based industrial machining.

Indianapolis Laser Cutting Services

The past 60 years have seen many innovations in laser cutting, as companies have pursued new applications for the technology. At Mainstay, we invest in replacing or adding laser cutting equipment every three years to increase our CNC and CO2 laser cutting capacity. As of today, we have 17,000 annual hours of cutting capability. 

Looking for high-reliability laser cutting services? Start a conversation with Mainstay today.