Susanna Contini Hennink, Contributing Editor/Europe
The laser is no newcomer to the micromachining market, but it is becoming a truly enabling technology as it proves it can solve new problems in telecommunications, microelectronics, fiber optics, data storage, medical devices, instrumentation, micro-optics and other fields.
Experts in the laser micromachining industry say their main competition is from such nonphotonic techniques as etching, milling, electrical discharge machining, mechanical drilling, diamond sawing or drilling and ultrasonic abrasive techniques. While several of these techniques allow batch processing or "ganging" and thus increasing the number of products processed, they are time-consuming and labor-intensive o if they can accomplish micromachining tasks at all.
Laser techniques offer a single-step process, and they are the only choice for some newer micromachining applications: They can machine some materials that nonphotonic technologies cannot; they can cut or ablate curved or irregular shapes; and they can create features that measure only microns across o or less.