Precision Laser Cutting
How and Why Precision Laser Cutting is Used in Electronics Manufacturing?
As electronic components have gotten smaller, the demand for innovative new methods of production has increased. It takes extreme precision to make the parts used in modern electronics. Precision laser cutting is one of the technologies meeting these demands.
All of the different fields of electronics make use of this fantastic technology. Precision, speed, consistency, and versatility are all qualities that precision laser cutting has brought to the manufacturing of electronics.
Precision Laser Cutting in Modern Electronics
The modern electronics industry covers a wide array of applications and products, with an equally wide variety of challenges.
Here are some of the main reasons that this thriving new technology sees so much use in the industry.
- Electronics today aren’t just copper; they employ advanced engineered materials that meet increasingly demanding requirements. These modern materials, whether they’re newly developed alloys or state of the art plastics, are often difficult to handle with traditional manufacturing techniques. Shape memory alloys see extensive use in cutting edge robotics. A conventional mill would deform these delicate alloys through shear forces, while precision laser cutting does not.
- Milling produces significant heat through friction. This problem isn’t a concern in many industries, but it presents a considerable roadblock in modern electronics. The structure of metals is affected by heat. This property is often an advantage, like the heat treatment used by traditional blacksmiths and in the production of modern components such as automotive transmission gears. Delicate electronic components can become hardened and brittle when exposed to heat. Precision laser cutting is precise enough to avoid significant heat transfer into the workpiece.
- Precision laser cutting allows for much narrower cutting paths than other methods. Imagine a CNC mill cutting a piece from a sheet of metal, the width of the bit creates a cutting path around the part. This significantly more precise process can cut more pieces from the same piece of metal, reducing waste. This narrow-cut also allows for more intricate design, a significant factor when designing modern electronics.
- Cutting parts from sheets isn’t the only thing precision laser cutting is suitable for. Multi-axis setups allow for intricate three-dimensional parts. Thin tubing requires this kind of precision cutting. When producing electronic components, a multi-axis precision laser can reduce what would’ve been multiple manufacturing steps into just one.
- Cost is the bottom line for any business, and precision laser cutting is more cost-effective for most applications. The tight tolerances allow for an absolute minimum of waste during manufacturing. There is also significantly lower auxiliary equipment needed than most traditional manufacturing techniques. This reduced manufacturing cost enables electronics producers to bring otherwise unviable products to the market. These savings play a significant role in the innovation we see in electronics today.
- Improving safety in manufacturing environments through the application of this technology has been another great success. Conventional cutting tools often have exposed cutting surfaces that present potential risks to operators. Lasers are typically fully enclosed, removing operator error as a factor that could lead to job site injuries.
Efficient Mass Production of Specialized Circuit Boards
Circuit boards are integrable components of almost all modern electronics. Even relatively simple electronics contain several that handle various functions. The drive to push more and more into smaller packages has led electronics designers to innovative new production methods.
Today there are flexible circuit boards for specialized applications, layered boards, and many other advancements.
Manufacturing circuit boards require large lots, printed onto a single piece of material. Some process then has to cut the individual boards out.
A traditional milling approach would waste significant amounts of material due to the wide cutting path. Precision laser cutting allows the boards to be densely packed onto the sheet, as the cutting path is much smaller.
Heat dissipation is also an essential reason that this method beats out conventional manufacturing for this application, along with the absence of dust and debris created by milling. These same issues have made precision laser cutting the preferred technique for the production of SD cards as well.
Precision Laser Cutting of Silicon and Other Materials
Silicon is one of the essential materials in modern electronics. Semiconductors, the backbone of miniaturized circuits, are made with silicon. It’s not a metal or an organic material; it’s a metalloid. Metalloids are elements with properties between the two.
These properties can vary wildly and are often hard to manage. Precision laser cutting is one of the only suitable technologies for producing the tiny silicon components that go into modern electronics.
Precision laser cutting isn’t just right for electronics due to its ability to make small parts. The precision and repeatability of this technology also help to manufacture larger components, like casings and shells.
This was likely the method that produced the metal or plastic casing you find on your phone or laptop. Production of these parts is in large quantities with tight tolerances, and the manufacturing method needs to be incredibly consistent.
An Important Role in Developing New Electronics
The electronics industry makes heavy use of precision laser cutting for research and development. Prototyping is an integral part of any design process. Creating a prototype for electronics development traditionally involved many hours of work from skilled and expensive prototyping specialists.
While prototyping specialists are still highly-skilled, recent advancements in technology and methods have drastically reduced the time and money required.
Precision laser cutting can produce parts very quickly and makes small orders much more viable than other methods. Most manufacturing is done at a production scale only, requiring other methods that are used exclusively for prototyping.
The versatility of this technology means that it doesn’t need extensive turnover when switching to producing a different part, allowing for the small runs that prototyping requires.
For many small components, low cost and quick processing make this process the only viable option for prototyping. It isn’t always a matter of cost; traditional techniques cannot match the tolerances and versatility of precision laser cutting.