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Laser Cut Tantalum

What is the best way to cut tantalum? 

Humans have used tools for thousands of years for making personal belongings like necklaces or a bracelet to tools for hunting and gathering of sustenance. Imagine the high technology way back in the day when chipping away at obsidian to form a spear or arrow point was the top of technology. The methods to make the spear and bow would also be a long process but it was created and refined over time. The skills progressed and new ideas were brought forth and new materials were discovered generations upon generations to where we are today. During these ancient discoveries’ materials like bronze, copper, gold were prominent in use. As progress was made, the discovery of iron ore and later the creation of steel would greatly advance the technology created by humans. Through time and coupled with much effort in the advancement of the sciences and the will to explore the unknown is where we find our current capabilities of manufacturing. One of the unique elements in use today, but largely unknown to the public for its contribution to technology, is tantalum. Precision parts and uses of tantalum support industries such as aerospace, medical device, semiconductor, oil and gas, and many others. The discovery of tantalum back in the early 1800’s was not ground breaking and was rediscovered about the mid 1860’s. Some minor use of it as light filament was tried around 1903, but it was not until the mid-1930’s that tantalum was used in capacitors. This did spark the interest in the adolescent electronics industry because tantalum has a high thermal threshold and can store and release electrical energy. Today, precision parts of tantalum perform key roles in those critical industries. Though machining tantalum is done often by CNC technology type systems, because it is malleable and ductile, cutting tantalum sheets or foils requires different technologies such as: 

  • Laser Cutting: Laser cut tantalum is a great choice for the manufacture of precision parts. Fiber laser technology has the capability to cut tantalum and many other metallic materials. Systems can range from 20 watts to 4000 watts or higher and provide very precise laser cut features in tolerance of +/- . 0.0254mm to 0.0762mm. Examples of tantalum laser cut parts can be found in consumer electronics like smartphones, laptops and in medical devices and medical implants. 
  • CO2 laser technology: These types of laser systems can cut tantalum and other metals but need the metallic materials to be coated so as to not reflect back into the laser and damage the optics.  
  • UV Laser Technology: Thin sheets of tantalum can be cut by Ultraviolet laser technology. Foils from 0.0254 mm up to 0.254mm can be cut and thicker, depending on the wattage of the system.  
  • CNC Technology: Including methods such as turning and milling, these technologies are not used to cut thin sheets of materials like tantalum but can cut into tantalum for the manufacturing of precision parts. However, care in using the proper tools and speeds is necessary. Tantalum is challenging and carbide bits are recommended and run at high speed. The bits must be kept sharp and used with lubricant. 

The best way to cut tantalum sheets or foils is by laser cutting technology, especially fiber laser technology. This will give the best clean edge cut and keep a very precise tolerance. Other methods like ultraviolet laser, CO2 laser and CNC technology, can also cut tantalum. The chosen method will be best determined by the project’s requirements and the appropriate systems to achieve the desired results. 

 What are the industrial uses of tantalum precision parts? 

 Tantalum, it just kind of rolls off the tongue when spoken. For geologists and metallurgists, this alloy is well known. It is grouped with other metals such as copper, magnesium, chromium, and others as a transitional alloy. Regarding the public, awareness of tantalum and the manufacturing of precision parts using tantalum, is far less than with alloys like aluminum or copper. Discovered way back in the early 1800’s, tantalum was not a game changer early on. It did not create a version of the tantalum rush for fortune and did not spark new cities and industries overnight. Being blueish grey in color probably did not enhance the visual appeal of this alloy, but eventually precision parts out of tantalum would be manufactured by numerous methods including, laser cut tantalum, CNC milling, CNC lathes, waterjet, PVD (physical vapor deposition), CNC turning for example. Tantalum would eventually be discovered as a key part in modern industries and play an important role in high-tech progress. 

The medical industry has benefited greatly and in turn, the public safety and quality of care with the use of tantalum. Tantalum has a characteristic of being inert to bodily tissue and is corrosion resistant. Surgical tools and prosthetics use tantalum for these reasons. You can find implants to replace the knee, hip, foot issues, and other areas of the body where it is used. 

Nuclear sciences employ the use of tantalum in reactors and research. Its properties are pushing forward new theories and test of tantalum to be a protective cover of the nuclear weapons and be part of reactor containment systems. 

The aerospace industry uses tantalum in numerous ways. Because it can withstand temperatures up to 4500 degrees Fahrenheit and is machinable, it used for parts in rockets, missiles, jet engines. Nasa also has studied the use to reduce the heat flux in spacecraft reentering the atmosphere. 

Tantalum is a key part of the tools used in the oil and gas industry. Mixed with other alloys, tantalum-tungsten is used in part to create superalloys. Materials like this can be used in gas turbines to withstand high temperatures and stress. It can be combined with niobium to create an alloy that withstands harsh corrosive conditions found in chemical processing equipment. 

Semiconductors gain corrosion resistance, high thermal stability, and high conductivity through the application of tantalum in the manufacturing process. A thin film of tantalum is applied to silicon wafers by physical vapor deposition. The resulting thin film layer prevents the diffusion of copper atoms onto the silicon wafer. Electrolyte coating of sintered tantalum anode in capacitors allow for enhanced capacitance.  

Tantalum is manufactured and applied by numerous methods including laser cut tantalum, CNC machining, physical vapor deposition and others. Though we do not see it in most applications, its characteristics of high thermal range, strength, conductivity and biocompatibility benefit manufactured parts and products in consumer electronics, aerospace, the medical industry and many, more.