What is Air Assist for a Laser Cutter?
When you’re new to the world of lasers, it’s great to have a built in piece of hardware in your laser cutter engineered to assist you - the air assist. It is a concentrated source of air flow positioned at the laser head, between the laser beam and the material you need to cut or engrave. Does it seem counterintuitive to “cool off” a laser beam? Let’s explore the functionality of the air assist feature and why it is a feature that's included predominantly in high quality laser cutting and engraving machines.
What Does Air Assist for a Laser Cutter Actually Do?
The air assist feature comes from an air compressor, which is similar in power to a can of compressed air, only more controlled and specialized for laser engraved projects. This air is blown over the material the entire time that your laser is being used to cut or engrave. As demonstrated in the diagram, the constant flow of air creates a cooling barrier between the laser beam and your material to keep the laser at a safe operating temperature. Without the air assist in some usage scenarios, it is possible that a laser could heat up to the point of causing fire. Therefore a key purpose behind the air assist feature for a laser cutter is safety. Most higher performance, high quality CO2 laser cutters will feature air assist.
Open diode laser systems are typically not strong enough to cut or engrave deeply so they usually don't require this type of feature or this type of laser cooling.
How Does Air Keep the Laser Cool Enough?
The air assist works in conjunction with a water cooling system. Water will flow through an enclosed pathway in the laser tube and keep the glass from shattering.
Our lasers have a clear, intuitive touchscreen that will notify you if the water cooling component is not engaged. A water droplet icon will appear red on screen and is designed to prevent overheating risk.
What Else Can Air Assist Help With?
Besides being a safety feature, integration of a strong air assist is helpful in reducing warping or charring of your material from the high power of a laser. We have a more in depth explanation of how to avoid charring in our comparison of power and current, but the key theme is to use the lowest power setting required to get the job done. Sometimes a higher power is needed to achieve a clean cut, and the air assist feature can help ensure that the cut is not obscured by a deep charred edge or burn marks.
What Happens if I Turn Air Assist Off? Does it Always Have to be On?
The air assist can be toggled on and off depending on the software and how much control the laser company provides to you as the end user. Some manufacturers will choose to disable this ability, or will not offer it to begin with. In Retina Engrave software as an example, you can choose to turn air assist on or off at any time, though it is recommended to keep it on for most jobs. The air assist feature is especially useful for cutting through paper since the air assist will blow the paper out from under the laser head.
Air Assist for a Laser Cutter: Wrap up
A fully functioning air assist is beneficial in making sure that your investment is not compromised by a broken laser tube or wasted material from charred designs. To keep your air assist fully functional, users should follow a daily maintenance routine which can involve cleaning lenses and mirrors with a lens wipe (isopropyl alcohol), keeping the laser bed free from piles of debris, and blowing out any fume extraction system filters.
Full Spectrum Laser is a leader in laser cutting and laser engraving systems. Our systems range in size from desktop units and high-volume machines through industrial-grade production equipment. Our machines are running all over the world: from grade schools to National Labs, garage startups and many Fortune 500 companies. Contact us today to learn more.