Lasers are incredible machines, capable of cutting materials in extremely precise ways. Originally used for cutting sheet metal, they now weld, drill, and engrave in a wide range of settings. Over time, they have become extraordinarily efficient and powerful.
Today, new applications of lasers are emerging in manufacturing:
High-Volume Laser Welding
Laser welding provides many efficiency benefits over traditional approaches. Through sophisticated mirrored scan heads, a laser can be directed and redirected very quickly. This makes it faster and less prone to error than contact-intensive welding methods. Laser welding lends itself to automation on fast-moving shop floors.
Laser Marking of Components
Part tracking is one of the most important aspects of logistics optimization. Virtually all major manufacturers have a global supply chain, so traceability is both vital and challenging. With laser engraving, almost any type of part can receive a permanent, direct mark: Text, graphics, a QR code, or any other symbol.
Additive Manufacturing With Lasers
Additive manufacturing is the formal term for the technology behind 3D printing – translation of 3D design data into a complete component through the accumulation of material in layers. When lasers are used in the process, both part repair and part fabrication are possible. Lasers are ideal for re-working of costly metallic components that have worn down over time.
Short pulse lasers can be used to process materials while producing virtually no heat affected zone. This allows them to machine plastics and brittle materials as well as they do metals. The greatest advantage of laser micromachining may be the ultra-high quality edges that can be produced. The healthcare industry has already embraced laser’s potential in this area.
Flatbed Laser Cutting
Even though laser technology has significantly matured, cutting is still a core application – and a major revenue generator. Cutting has become faster than ever thanks to new fiber and disk laser technology. Innovative diode lasers allow fast, efficient cutting of aluminum in ways that were not possible before. External control systems for lasers also offer new opportunities.
Laser drilling vaporizes a target material in tiny layers until a complete through-hole is created. Clean, uniform holes can be achieved in metals, polymer, and rubber. This has been a boon for the development of new medical devices: Flawless tubing can be readied for drug delivery, drainage, or facilitating access to a specific part of the body with surgical tools.
The first production laser went into service back in 1965. Since then, the fundamental concepts remain the same, but the underlying technologies have transformed substantially. As nanotechnology produces machines at smaller and smaller scales, and materials science offers new alloys with novel industrial applications, lasers are likely to remain essential to manufacturing.