Laser cutting is a technology that has developed over the last several decades to improve the quality and efficiency of slicing metal and other industrial materials. It is known for its precision and high-quality results. While this process has greatly improved both the public and private sector, as well as at-home hobbyists, one major drawback is the airborne dust which results from using the machine. Thus, a necessity for operation is a laser fume extractor, which attaches to laser cutting machinery and recirculates the air to improve pollution control. While this is a relatively simple process, selecting a suitable extractor is more difficult. Fortunately, there are a few considerations that can make choosing one easier.
1. Choose your device based on material
While extracting fumes emitted from using a laser cutting device is important, not all fumes are emitted equally. Different carcinogens are released based on what is being cut and extractors are built to handle them differently. Consult the Material Safety Data Sheet to determine what will be spread when different materials are used. Knowing whether hex chrome, zinc oxide, or manganese will be emitted will help in selecting the right laser fume extractor.
2. Don’t get the wrong size
Though the mechanics of specific extractors may be similar, it is imperative to ensure that it will fit the laser cutter being used. Some collectors are smaller than others in an attempt to decrease the cost of manufacturing. While this will likely be a cheaper option, it is important to base the extractor size on necessary wattage and the size of the laser table. Incorrectly sized fume extractors may work but pose a safety hazard because they are more likely to malfunction.
3. Determine the air flow requirement
Different laser manufacturers build their machines with differing air flow requirements. This air flow is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM) and is dependent on the laser configuration. The first of the three main configurations is cabinet extraction, which is when fumes are extracted from the back of the machine. This has a higher CFM requirement compared to other methods. Source extraction is a configuration which utilizes a nozzle or an extraction arm that pulls carcinogens off immediately. This does not require as high of a CFM because in this case the contaminants are not airborne. This configuration is generally used with heavier materials, which do not float as easily. Larger machines generally use down draft tables, which use suction to pull air down and extract particles before they become airborne. In this configuration the CFM varies based on the size of machinery being operated.
The Bottom Line
Many considerations go into selecting an appropriate laser fume extractor, but the process does not have to be painful. Knowing what type of material will be cut and knowing the laser cutting machine specifications are key to choosing the right extractor. Ultimately, fume extraction is an integral part of modern laser cutting and decisions should be made based on the machine being used.