CO2 vs. Fiber Laser, which is better? This has been a common discussion in manufacturing circles for several years now as Laser purists insist CO2 was the better technology and others promoting the new innovations of Fiber Lasers, insist just the opposite is true. But who is right? Which technology is better and how does it affect your bottom line? 

A clue to the answer is the realization that most manufacturers offer BOTH CO2 and Fiber Laser Technologies in their machinery product offering. They do so as they have seen there is a marked difference in the technologies, capabilities and more importantly their performance in certain materials, thicknesses and special applications. Ultimately it comes down to the material you are cutting type and thickness of it.

In a previous article, Why the Kilowatt is not the King, we discovered that Fiber Lasers get more power from the resonator, or power source, to the cutting head. They achieve this by not having to reflect the beam off of mirrors and refocus the beam through a myriad of lenses, thereby maintaining all of the power being produced at the source. CO2 Lasers however gain an edge when it comes to material types and the flexibility to adapt to a wider range of materials.

Advantage CO2(3280) NEW Polaris X12-625 Fiber Laser Cutting System - Pic 9

  • Finish: CO2 Lasers generally produce better edge quality on plate stainless and aluminum workpieces.
  • Flexibility: CO2 Lasers offer the flexibility across a range of laser applications including non-metals. 
  • Known Technology: As CO2 Lasers have been around for some 30+ Years the technology, and thus the results are quite predictable.  This offers a good level of assurance to a user. 

Disadvantage CO2

  • Operating Costs: Aside from the mirrors, lenses bellows and las gasses required to keep the beam path delivery system pure and clean, the power consumption costs are 70% higher as the CO2 Resonator, Blower, chiller etc require much more power. 
  • Maintenance: All of the above mentioned components of the beam path delivery system require maintenance which can not only be disruptive to manufacturing but also very costly. 
  • Speed: In thin materials a CO2 Laser just can’t compete against a fiber. As an example a 4KW CO2 in 16 GA Mild Steel using N2 as a cutting gas has a recommended cutting speed of just 260IPM whereas an equally equipped Fiber Laser has a cutting speed of Approximately 1,417 IPM, quite a difference. 

Advantage Fiber2025  NEW Polaris L510 Fiber Laser Cutting System - 2000 Watt IPG Resonator

  • Investment Costs: As the solid state laser technology becomes increasingly more popular the cost of the systems are declining.  As an example a well equipped domestic built fiber laser cutting system can be purchased starting at well under 300K
  • Maintenance: Without the Beam Path Delivery System and its myriad use of mirrors, bellows, gasses wetc the Fiber laser (specifically the solid state resonator type) has greatly reduced the amount of maintenance required and as such the costs associated with that maintenance.
  • Speed: In the race of Fiber Lasers vs. CO2 Lasers in thin materials there is simply no comparison. Fiber is double to triple the speed in gage materials.
  • Operating Costs: With lower power requirements for the resonator and lower cooling requirements they power consumption required for a fiber laser is approximately 1/3rd that of it's CO2 cousin. Coupled with less Maintenance, less consumables and faster cutting make the per/part costs on a fiber laser exceedingly advantageous. 

Disadvantage Fiber

  • Thick Material Finish: One of the advantages of CO2 lasers is the finishes obtained in thicker materials, especially Stainless Steel and Aluminum. While Fiber Laser technology is not far off  as of the writing of this article today CO2 is still the leader in this area.  
  • Overall Flexibility: As we previously mentioned, CO2 Laser have more flexibility to cut through a  wider range of materials, especially non metals. While Fiber Technology is catching up and in fact can cut Brass and Copper out of the box (CO2 Lasers struggle with these materials greatly) they do have limits to their use especially in non-metal applications.  
  • Known Technology/Comfort Level: If you are currently running one or more CO2 laser systems in your facility you're likely to sway very heavily in that technology direction initially as it is the ‘demon’ you know vs. the one you do not. 

The Bottom Line

CO2 Laser vs Fiber Laser Technology is an argument that is slowly fading from our industry. As fiber laser technology becomes older, engineers and manufacturers have discovered ways to emulate the CO2 laser effects and thus successes. By producing the laser light source in different wavelengths, and delivering that wavelength over a specifically “tuned” fiber optic cable, they are achieving better results in thicker materials and as such quickly eliminating the arguments against Fiber laser technology. Further as the cost for Fiber Lasers are being drastically lowered, they are coming in the range of a ordinary small to medium sized fabrication shop whose technology was typically out of reach. This new capability, buffered by lower investment costs promises a bright future for Fiber. 

Whether you're looking for your first laser cutting system or your tenth the experts at Southern Fabricating Machinery Sales, Inc. can assist you in your search. We know the applications, they best ranges and have the solutions you need in both CO2 AND Fiber laser cutting technologies.

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