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As the door closes on another decade, it’s only natural to reflect on how much change takes place in ten years. Smartphones and tablets placing a massive volume of computing power and data in the palm of your hand. Fitness trackers and smartwatches reminding us how many more steps are needed to reach our daily goal. Netflix, Hulu and Prime streaming services fundamentally changing the way we watch TV.
For professionals who work in the manufacturing industry, the changes may not be as obvious; however, they are arguably just as dramatic. Globalization of durable products has grown exponentially. Direct-to-customer manufacturing has simplified logistics and removed much of the need for warehousing. By far though, the most notable improvement in manufacturing in the last decade is the advancement in equipment technology. Look at virtually any industry, equipment costs have dropped while precision and onboard technology has increased dramatically. Industrial lasers, for example, have made huge leaps in the last ten years.
|When most people think of manufacturing with Lasers, they typically envision a large-format sheet metal cutting platform in an industrial shop flanked by a number of other metalworking tools. While that is the most common and obvious use of a laser in manufacturing, it is far from the totality of uses. Industrial lasers have come a long way from the days of fast-flow CO2 cutters and galvanometer YAG based part marking systems.|
For example, diode-based lasers have been around since the 1960s. However, It’s only been in the last twenty years that they have been used in manufacturing and more recently in the last ten years that they have been in widespread applications. Currently, every major industrial laser supplier offers 1 watt to 1-kilowatt laser integrations with a variety of wavelengths ranging from IR to sub-UV. Fiber delivered lasers have also made a big impact in the last decade providing the ability to deliver energy to the work surface without the obstacles of traditional beam delivery via tubes and mirrors. Ultrafast lasers (lasers with pulse widths in the femtosecond range) have opened the door to ablating at sub-micron scales and in many materials previously deemed unlaserable. These light sources combined with state of the art motion control have broken through many barriers to materials and applications once deemed out of the reach of laser processing.
There are two answers to this question. One answer is that the lack of implementation is a bit of a myth. Lasers are used extensively in manufacturing yet many people are not aware of it. For the last 40 years the automotive industry has used lasers for manufacturing from cutting the airbag cloth, door lining to welding the body shell, annealing door springs and marking tires. The semiconductor industry has also used laser lithography for the last 40 years. In the last 20 years, laser-drilled microvias have made their way into just about every ultra-density printed circuit. The Medical industry has numerous applications that require the use of lasers: microfluidics, time-release medication, precision-manufactured implant devices, and implements. Plus, there are thousands of other applications that I could spend the rest of this blog describing.
The second answer (in my opinion the more important one): Many engineers and product designers are unaware of the capabilities of laser processing or how to properly apply laser technology to the manufacturing floor. As someone who has worked in laser processes in manufacturing for 20 plus years, a very common comment I hear from new customers goes something like this “We have tried cutting these parts with every process we know of and nothing works. We were wondering if a laser might be able to get the job done”. In the case of thin non-toxic materials, more often than not we are able to find a solution. This is where lasers really shine (yes pun intended). In the world of high precision thin material processing, the laser is king.
If you are a manufacturing professional or someone who is interested in learning more about laser ablation of thin materials, we would like to invite you to subscribe to this blog. To kick off 2020, Micron Laser Technology is starting a monthly blog and vlog. We have had great success over the last 20 years developing ways to solve manufacturing problems with laser technology. We want to share that information with the rest of the manufacturing community. We believe that this next decade holds even greater potential than the last for producing better, cheaper, life-changing products to improve our world.