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  • Laser Firms Eye Medical Markets

Photonics Spectra
Jan 1998
Stephanie A. Weiss

SAN DIEGO -- New technologies are improving industrial perceptions about laser materials processing, and new markets, including medical products, are opening doors to companies that can solve manufacturing problems, according to speakers at the International Conference on Applications of Lasers and Electro-Optics in November.
The conference, sponsored by the Laser Institute of America, expanded from its traditional focus on heavy industry to include sessions on laser applications in the medical device industry. A keynote address by Michael Berns, director of the Beckman Laser Institute, and several technical talks addressed photonics as medical devices; others focused on using photonics to manufacture medical devices.
John McKillop of the Laser Fare Advanced Technology Group in Smithfield, R.I., noted that laser manufacturers are eager to break into the field of marking on surgical instruments, but they face a lot of work to gain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. "What's hard is that in surgical instruments you need the kind of marking that doesn't make grooves," because grooves can harbor bacteria that might resist sterilization, he said.
Medical manufacturers use ep-oxies and chemical etching on their products, but lasers would enable them to label individual instruments with serial numbers.

Three new technologies
A highlight of the conference's more traditional technical fare was a speech by Conrad M. Banas, a retired United Technologies Inc. engineer and winner of the conference's Arthur L. Schawlow Award. After a comical description of his life as a laser engineer, Banas turned serious, saying that three advances are about to improve laser materials processing:

  • Filler metals. Researchers are developing filler materials that make laser welds more like traditional welds.
  • Beam shape. Rather than always using a single spot, researchers are considering ways to use different types of spots for specific new applications. For example, a larger "spot" could simulate thermal creep.
  • Dual-beam processing. For example, placing one beam on each side of a weld spot produces less distortion by balancing thermal stresses.

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