Michael D. Wheeler
A new class of highly efficient, multikilowatt CO2 lasers designed for material processing could have a far-reaching impact on the sealed-flow gas laser market.
Alexander Krasnov, founder of Continental Laser Energy, says he has developed a compact, sealed gas device capable of emitting more than 5 kW with high electro-optical efficiencies and excellent beam quality.
The Rainbow Series includes a CO2 laser emitting at 10.6 µm with a continuous output range of 50 to 2000 W, and a maximum peak power of 4500 W; and a CO laser that emits between 4.8 and 5.1 µm with power up to 10 kW. Because of its shorter wavelength, a CO beam provides a more precise, deeper cut with less reflection for some metals.
Continental also plans to offer a xenon laser emitting at 2.03 µm at 1 kW, suitable for cutting aluminum and copper. Other models at 1.5 and 2 kW will sell for between $110,000 and $120,000.
Krasnov said the key to producing the new lasers is a patented process that combines a particular radio frequency with a subsonic or supersonic gas flow. The rate of gas flow depends on the gas used in the laser. The radio frequency creates electron oscillation that stimulates the ionization of gas, generating a unique plasma. When photons pass through the plasma, they produce a high-power beam. According to industry sources, radio frequency excitation is typically a more expensive method than direct current activation.
In addition, because it is sealed, the laser requires only one 2.5-ft-long, 6-in. diameter gas tank that is replaced every six months. Flowing gas devices tend to be less expensive, but maintenance costs can be prohibitive. In one year, replenishing the gas and tubing costs $5000 to $10,000, one industry source said.
The widespread use of CO2 lasers in materials processing -- from cutting thin metals, textiles and rubber to polymers and nylons -- has spurred much competition among industry heavyweights such as Rofin-Sinar Laser GmbH in Hamburg, Germany, Coherent and Synrad.
Coherent recently commercialized 500-W sealed devices. Production of a 600-W sealed device from Synrad is set to begin in the next couple of months. There have been whispers, too, of an offering by Convergent Energy spinoff Excitation in Springfield, Mass., of a 1-kW sealed CO2 device due out later this year.