By Embryo

Is Laser Cutting Sustainable?

If you’re toying with using laser cutting as part of your metal manufacturing process, you might be wondering: Is laser cutting sustainable? 

It’s no secret that sustainability is on consumers’ minds and has been an increasing priority in all sectors of manufacturing. At Salamander Fabrications, we utilise custom laser cutting services to meet the needs of our commercial clients, operating fibre lasers specifically. 

Consumers being more empowered to find out how their goods are made means that more than ever, people are curious to know what the environmental impact of laser cutting is. So, if you’re interested to know, ‘Is laser cutting environmentally friendly?’, read on. We’ll dive into just how sustainable laser cutting really is. 

To find out more about Salamander Fabrications’ laser cutting services, get in touch with our sales team today at 01484 843599.

Why Is Laser Cutting a Sustainable Manufacturing Method?

The key advantage of laser cutting over traditional methods is that laser cutting is highly accurate, especially when operated by experienced professionals who can get the most out of your sheet metal and code extremely efficient laser cutting computer programmes.

To understand why laser cutting is an energy-efficient form of cutting various materials like metal it’s important to understand how laser cutting works. Laser cutting uses thermal heat by focussing a laser beam onto materials to burn through them. This is what’s known as non-contact cutting. This has certain benefits for the cutting process, and in particular, positive implications for sustainability. We’ll take you through exactly how in the next section.

If you’re exploring laser cutting for the first time and would like a more thorough explanation, we dive into the subject by answering the question ‘what is laser cutting?’ in another guide.

The Greener Benefits of Laser Cutting

  • The laser beam is highly focused, allowing for an enormous degree of accuracy. This accuracy means less wastage. The cuts are clean and precise in most cases.
  • The way that laser cutting is operated is most commonly through CNC programming and CAD/CAM design. The fact that the designs for the cuts are pre-calculated means that you can get the most out of your sheet metal and create intricate objects.
  • The majority of the process in most cases is automated. This means that human error is almost entirely eliminated. This dramatically reduces wastage from the results of human error such as cutting imprecisely or scorching.
  • The laser beam requires less power in order to cut through materials than traditional methods. The reduction in energy expended is a key factor in making laser cutting a sustainable choice.

So, in answer to the question ‘Is laser cutting sustainable?’ – the answer is a clear yes, compared to older methods like CNC cutting. However, when exploring the most common types of laser cutting, we established that while the output from laser cutting is similar, the different laser cutters used to produce these results differ. 

They differ in aspects like the fuels they run on, how accurate they are, how energy efficient they are and how often they need to be maintained or ultimately replaced. These are all factors in how sustainable they are.

What Is the Most Sustainable Kind of Laser Cutting?

At Salamander we use fibre lasers instead of C02 lasers because they do not require the same level of gas fuel to run and they are a lot more energy efficient in general. Energy efficiency is one of the key metrics to consider when assessing how sustainable laser cutting is.

What Makes Fibre Laser Cutters the Most Sustainable?

Fibre laser cutting works by delivering a concentrated beam of light through a doped optical fibre. There are several reasons why fibre lasers, compared to other types, are the more sustainable choice. These are key reasons why we opt to use them in our sheet metal fabrication and cutting process, here at Salamander Fabrications.

The reasons fibre laser cutters are more sustainable than other lasers are:

  • They deliver a strong amount of power for the energy they take to run
  • They require less energy to run the laser than other forms of laser
  • They don’t require any gas to run, unlike C02 lasers, for instance
  • They require little maintenance compared to other lasers and last for a long time
  • Some lasers that run by utilising gases can release contaminants when they interact with the materials they cut – with fibre lasers these emissions are eliminated as they do not use gas

Is Laser Cutting Sustainable in General?

While fibre lasers might be the most sustainable option when considering all factors involved, laser cutting in general is a much more sustainable option than the traditional methods of cutting metal that are notoriously energy inefficient. 

Before laser cutting became prevalent in industrial materials cutting, the main methods of cutting through materials on an industrial scale were:

  • CNC Cutting 
  • Oxy-Fuel Cutting
  • Plasma Cutting
  • Water-Jet Cutting
  • Mechanical Cutting Machines

All of these methods are far more intensive in their use of energy, as well as other resources like water and gases.

So regardless of which laser cutter you opt for, you’re choosing an efficient and modern method of materials cuttings. 

Why It Might Matter to You If Laser Cutting Is Sustainable

If your company is producing or retailing goods containing metal components, the environmental impact of laser cutting should be on your mind. Here are a few key reasons why making your metalworking more sustainable might matter to you: 

  • You are working with a third party who has sustainability commitments you need to adhere to – B Corp registered businesses, for instance, have to adhere to a higher level of transparency and accountability about their business sustainability practices to gain and keep their accreditation
  • You want to produce goods and demonstrate your commitment to sustainability as a unique selling point to consumers – As McKinsey and Neilson IQ found in their consumer insights report, 78% of consumers say that a sustainable lifestyle is important to them. This research also supports that consumers are willing to pay more for greener products – up to 28% more, in fact. 
  • You have your own business sustainability commitments and want to invest in greener practices – Businesses who make commitments to reducing their carbon footprint can meet their goals by adopting new, more sustainable manufacturing. For instance, by making changes like using laser cutting over higher impact processes.
  • You’re changing processes in line with carbon reduction targets – As the government starts to target high-energy industries to achieve carbon reduction targets for 2050 many manufacturers are aware that there is increasing pressure to implement sustainable manufacturing processes.

If any of these reasons jump out to you as being beneficial for the future of your metal manufacturing processes, Salamander Fabrications can help you switch to laser cutting. We provide commercial laser cutting services to a wide variety of industries.

Move to Greener Manufacture with Salamander’s Laser Cutting Services

If you’re ready to embrace a more sustainable method of cutting metals and other heavy materials, laser cutting might be the best option for you. Here at Salamander Fabrications, we use fibre lasers for our laser cutting projects. This allows us to operate efficiently and sustainably on behalf of our clients.

We use two Bystronic laser cutters on a 24/7 basis and ensure all production is projects managed and quality controlled by our highly skilled team. If you’re looking for commercial laser cutting services, simply get in touch with the team today.

FAQs about the environmental impact of laser cutting:

We’ve put together some FAQs to help answer some common questions about sustainability in laser cutting. 

Does laser cutting use a lot of energy?

The amount of energy used in laser cutting generally depends on which laser you are using. Some will expend more than others. As we have discussed, fibre lasers are currently the most energy efficient option. However, when you compare all laser cutting to traditional methods using heavy mechanical cutting machines, it is dramatically more energy efficient.

Are laser cutting fumes toxic?

This will depend largely on the material being cut. At Salamander the majority of our work, due to being sheet metal fabrication experts, is with metals. The possibility of metal cutting releasing toxins is generally low, except for situations in which the metal has a coating. 

Can you reuse the scrap produced by laser cutters?

Yes, the scrap metal produced by laser cutting machines can be recycled. This is an example of a closed-loop system in which waste is almost entirely eliminated.

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