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  • Industrial lasers shine at Photonics West

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2009
David L. Shenkenberg,

SAN JOSE, Calif. – According to Tesko Laser, a company in the Chicagoland area that provides laser cutting and metal fabricating services, industrial lasers can slice through the hardest materials and make the most precise cuts with the narrowest heat-affected zones and with burr-free edges.

However, they typically cost more than plasma, oxy-fuel (that is, burns oxygen with gaseous fuel) and waterjet systems and have trouble cutting reflective materials such as aluminum and copper. They also have problems cutting thick materials, although this is not necessarily a disadvantage because the majority of sheet metal is less than 2 mm thick.

Traditionally, Nd:YAG lasers have been used for detail work, and CO2 lasers have been used for big jobs. Both have proven track records, but diode lasers offer greater energy efficiency and substantially lower costs.

Laser cutting options

In January at Photonics West, Coherent showed a 1-kW direct-diode laser called the Highlight 1000F. The laser is coupled to a fiber and has a small, slender profile that can fit on a tabletop, so it can be moved to work around tight spots. It can be cooled with tap water.

According to Marcus Noble, who markets products on behalf of Coherent, the laser is designed “to cut the sheet metal of our daily lives.” It also works well for welding, cladding and heat-treating.

Disk lasers are another alternative to traditional industrial lasers. This type of laser literally has a thin disk as the lasing medium. These lasers are powerful. In fact, Boeing recently used one in a military demonstration to shoot down an unmanned aerial vehicle.

Trumpf displayed its disk laser, the TruDisk 4002, at the recent Photonics West. This laser incorporates a new cooling system based on constant circulation of water through microchannels. Because of this cooling system, the laser is more compact, the diodes have changed, and it can be offered at a lower price, according to a company representative. Previously lasting 20,000 hours, it now lasts more than 50,000 hours. The representative said that it can run off tap water or even antifreeze for welding pipelines in Alaska.

The laser provides a maximum power of 16 kW. The diodes are sold in stacks of 4 kW, so that customers can choose to use more or less power, depending on the application, or save money by buying only one or two stacks to begin with, with the idea in mind that they can always buy more stacks later if they need to upgrade.

It has four outputs with fiber optic cables, which is a feature that the auto industry wanted. This enables factory workers to move the fiber to another output if one breaks.

A gas made up of electrons and ions.
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