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What do you need to cut foam for? Packaging, decorations, signs? There are many more ways to use this material, and in this article we will tell you how to properly cut it! 

Where is it being used?

  1. Packaging. One of the most common applications of this material. Special fillers for shipping, boxes and organizers.
  2. Decorations. A lot of stage-properties are made out of foam: sward imitations, rocks or even walls for a play.
  3. Interior and furniture. Yes, foam takes place in those spheres as well. Some of the fake pillars inside the house can be made out of it!
  4. Signs and ads. Foam is known for being used for 3D sculpting, if we may call it. A lot of big letters or boards are from this material.
  5. Automobile construction. Here it is used for comfort, sound insulation, and safety. For example, it can be used to cover door panels or the roof.

At the end of the day we have balusters, photo zones, arches, snowflakes, moldings, faux fireplaces, columns, and much, much more out foam, which brings it to the important category of materials.

What is foam and why it’s important to know

The peculiarities of working with the material stem from its properties.

So, foam is foamed plastic. And here you might recall the challenges of working with plastics, namely their susceptibility to ignition. And that would be correct!

Foam comes in different densities and rigidities. It consists of plastic cells with air in between, which is what makes the material so lightweight.

Foam also varies in pore structure; there are closed-cell and open-cell types. The first type is denser and waterproof, while the second type can absorb water and is easier to cut.

The functions of foam include sound insulation and thermal insulation.

Furthermore, this material is quite easy to repair with spackling if it gets damaged somewhere. Foam can be patched, sanded, and, for example, painted. And it will be as good as new.

Types of equipment to work with foam

There are at least four variants.

  1. Hydro Abrasive Method

In this case, the material is processed with water, which passes through it under high pressure. This method has such advantages as environmental friendliness and the absence of high temperatures. However, there are also drawbacks, such as increased noise, high equipment costs, and operational expenses (abrasives, water, mixing pipes, and nozzles).

  1. String

Foam can also be cut with a string, but then much depends on the individual: speed and accuracy of work, for example. Also, when cutting with a string, it is important to leave a section for the exit of the string from the material, which can limit the shapes.

  1. Laser foam cutter

A laser machine is more convenient in this regard because the laser simply vaporizes the material, leaving no sawdust. The Wattsan machines themselves are designed to ensure maximum precision; they have a lifting table and a standard place for a long-focus lens. They also have a sturdy frame and gantry.

Graphic editor programs also facilitate work. There is no need to manually apply marks to the material to avoid cutting off excess. The machine will do it all by itself. It can handle any shape.

  1. Milling

This material is processed in many different ways, and besides laser machines, CNC router machines are also used. However, you need to monitor a large number of aspects to achieve a good result. For example, you need to watch out for material heating because then the foam will stick to the mill and spoil the cut quality.

 Advantages of the foam laser cutting machines

Let’s precisely outline the advantages of working with a laser foam cutter, which collectively distinguish it from other equipment:

  1. Precision. Any intricate design will be cut with accuracy down to the millimeter. For those dealing with materials comprising numerous small details, this is the ideal option.
  2. Speed. Faster work means faster production and higher volumes.
  3. Minimum waste. Thanks to its precision, the chance of defects and unnecessary expenses is reduced.
  4. Clean cut.
  5. Versatility. Even if you decide to change profiles or add more types of materials to your arsenal, you’ll only need to slightly adjust your equipment settings, as the laser machine cuts a wide variety of materials.
  6. Repeatability. For manufacturing processes where product uniformity is crucial, the machine is excellent as it guarantees precise reproducibility.
  7. Quick reconfiguration. There’s no need to manufacture special tools for different tasks. You can simply change the design without any additional costs.

Settings for a foam laser cutter

First of all, it’s necessary to replace the lens — we install a long-focus 100 mm lens.

It’s important to note that foam is easily flammable. Therefore, it’s essential to handle it carefully but also not to be afraid of ruining the material in the first attempts. Test cuts are mandatory! It’s advisable to set a small air blow, approximately at 0.2 atm. Giving more air is not as critical, as long as there is airflow.

Now, about the exhaust system. You need it to avoid breathing in styrene: not the most useful or pleasant substance.

It turns out that one of the main components of foam is precisely styrene. Manufacturers claim that it’s almost completely emitted during production, but the remaining portion is enough to cause irreversible harm.

Styrene can start affecting at room temperature, let alone elevated temperatures. Therefore, during foam laser cutting, significant smoke is generated. And to get rid of it and the toxins, an exhaust system is essential! After all, hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen bromide, released into the air, can be deadly to humans.

Nowhere without an exhaust system! So, make sure to check its condition and level of contamination more often.

Now let’s consider the parameters for laser cutting foam on a 100-120W tube, which can be installed on a 1610 machine, as an example, and adjust them accordingly.

  • For cutting 1 cm — speed 50, power 60%;
  • For cutting 5 cm — speed 30, power 60%;
  • For cutting 10 cm — speed 15, power 60%.

Note: settings may vary not only due to the thickness of the material but also because of its color. Since the laser can reflect, white foam may require more power than black or gray, for example.

There is also a type called shadow foam, which consists of two or more sheets of foam of different colors. This is often used for organizers of various toolboxes, or fragile items.

What machine to choose for foam laser cutting

In general, for this task, all medium-format models from 6090 to 1610 will be suitable because foam sheets are often supplied in sizes of 60 by 120 or 100 by 120 cm. However, there may be a table with a larger working area, depending on your tasks.

6090
LT
Work area 900 x 600 mm
Tube power 80-90 W
Max engraving speed 700 mm
Dimensions 1490x1030x670 mm + 315 mm (if on its wheels)
More
laser cutter engraver wattsan

As mentioned earlier, speed helps to deal with the possibility of ignition. And for good speed, a good tube is needed. For example, on the 1610 LT machine, there is a tube of 100–120 W, the power of which is sufficient for fast and safe work with foam. Approximately such power is recommended for foam laser cutting.

1610
LT
Work area 1600 x 1000 mm
Tube power 100-120 W
Max engraving speed 700 mm
Dimensions 1505x2200x670 + 315 mm (if on its wheels)
More
laser cutting and engraving machine wattsan

Trends

Nonetheless, foam in all of its forms remains popular in the market, and its application rates are not dropping. As a result, the foam laser cutting processing industry is in high demand.

Conclusions

  1. Foam is needed for shipping fillers, boxes, and organizers; stage props like sword imitations; fake pillars and other decorative elements; 3D sculpting of letters and boards; sound insulation, and safety in vehicles.
  2. Foam, or foamed plastic, has various densities and rigidities. Functions include sound insulation and thermal insulation. It is easily repairable with spackling and paint.
  3. There are four types of equipment to work with foam: Hydro-abrasive machines, wire cutting, foam laser cutting machine, CNC router.
  4. Advantages of a laser foam cutter are precision, speed, minimal waste, clean cuts, versatility, reproducibility.
  5. Before cutting, you should change the lens for an appropriate one foam cutting. Then do test cuts which are essential due to foam’s flammability.
  6. Maintain low air pressure. Ensure proper ventilation to remove fumes!
  7. Medium-format models like 6090 to 1610 are suitable for foam cutting.

Choose a machine for foam laser cutting with sufficient power.

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