Fiber, Disk can Coexist in Industrial Market
SAN JOSE, Calif., May 21, 2010 — The industrial laser market has room for both disk and fiber lasers, and in the future hybrid systems may appear. Those were some of the conclusions of a Market Focus panel discussion on industrial lasers held during the CLEO/QELS 2010 exhibition.
The presentation focused on fiber, thin disk and bulk solid-state lasers, both for new applications and to enhance existing uses in the industrial laser market.
Moderating the discussion was L.A. Schlie, independent consultant, Integral Laser Solutions LLC. Participants included Jens Limpert of Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, who talked about the future of industrial ultrafast laser technology; Tim Webber, market development manager for IPG Photonics, who discussed the impact of high-power fiber lasers on the materials processing market; Dr. Michael von Borstel, vice president of research and development and operations, Trumpf GmbH, Germany, who discussed infrared and green high-power lasers for material processing; and Dr. Edward F. Stephens, director of Engineering, Northrop Grumman-Cutting Edge Optronics, who talked about high energy lasers as new tools for industrial applications.
Limpert talked about the potential of current laser technology to achieve ultrashort pulses of less than 10 picoseconds with the potential of gigawatt peak power at megahertz pulse repetition rate from passively Q-switched lasers.
Webber discussed the impact high-power fiber lasers have had on the materials processing market, having lanquished mostly as a lab curiosity for about 20 years after their discovery. Since coming on the market around 1990, fiber lasers have replaced other lasers in a number of medical, automotive, welding, cutting and marking applications.
Future applications of 30,000 W to 50,000 W fiber lasers include welding tasks in wind power generation towers and pipe welding in the field, Webber said, and high power multimode versions of the laser are moving into defense applications.
von Borstel talked about some new developments by Trumpf in the areas of high-power CO2 lasers and disk lasers, such as a CO2 laser with continuous wave power up to 50 kW, a green Yb:YAG thin-disk laser with 700 W at a repetition rate of 100 kHz, and a Yb:YAG disk laser with cw power up to 20 kW.
Stephens talked about how decades of R&D in the military and aerospace industry has produced diode-pumped high-energy lasers capable of being used as directed energy weapons and have achieved greater than 100 kW CW with good beam quality. The two approaches to getting lots of power, he said, are either to construct one big laser or add a bunch of smaller ones together. Diode-pumped slabs are currently used for this, but fiber is gaining ground, he said.
In a question-and-answer session after the individual presentations, Schlie asked what is better for industrial applications, a thin disk or a fiber laser?
"You use the best wavelengths for each application," said von Borstel. "At low power, fiber is more commercially interesting. At high power, it's the disk."
Webber said the winner will be whoever presents the best case to the end user. "They don't care what's in the box, they want results in terms of reliability and use. They can get parallel performance at a number of power levels. It's whoever presents the best case to end users."
Schlie then asked what role beam quality will play in industrial applications.
Stephens said beam quality will play a big role in the defense market, while Limpert said current beam quality is sufficient for 90 percent of all applications, such as cutting and welding.
As for future uses of ultrafast lasers, several of the panelists agreed that no one system can do everything, and hyrids combining more than one system will be needed to meet future applications.
For more information, visit: www.cleoconference.org
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