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FEATURE MATERIALS PROCESSING


state systems available on the market today are now able to cut thicker metals at a comparable quality to the CO2


additional improvements. ‘Fibre delivered systems, either fibre- or disk-based, have the advantage of getting the beam to the material in a simple way, and therefore the integration of the laser is a lot simpler than that of a CO2 laser,’ said Leibinger. ‘This, in combination with the fact that a diode-pumped 1µm laser has a much better wall-plug efficiency than a CO2


laser,


leads to the quick adaption of that tool in the field.’


And, as solid-state systems


are being developed with higher powers, they are fast approaching the cutting quality of a CO2


systems, along with offering


50 per cent of industrial machines being installed for laser cutting are now solid-state


laser with thicker and thicker


materials, according to Klaus Kleine, product line manager for fibre lasers at Coherent: ‘There is some discussion about the surface finish when cutting with CO2


or fibre lasers. In the past, you


would see a crossover at around 4 or 6mm, but now you see people getting really good cutting


quality at 12 to 20mm with fibre lasers − but if you cut that thick, you are talking about a laser in the 4kW range,’ Kleine explained. It is because of this capability to cut thicker materials in conjunction with better efficiency and easier integration that approximately 50 per cent of new industrial machines being installed for laser cutting are now solid-state, compared to only 20 to 30 per cent a few years ago. ‘I think today we are at a level of about 50 per cent of new machines being equipped are solid-state lasers,’ stated Leibinger. ‘And I think that will continue − which will drive the high-power laser industry for the coming years.’ However, Leibinger


pointed out the challenge that


companies face in order to keep up with the change in the marketplace, which he plans to speak about at the Stuttgart Laser Technology Forum (SLT) at Lasys: ‘It is a fast technological shift that is taking place, and the players in the field have to be able to realise this new technology − they have to have a certain depth


and breadth in their technological ability in order to develop and produce products based on this new technology,’ he noted. ‘This is especially challenging for some cutting machine manufacturers that make their own CO2


lasers.’


Another way companies will need to ensure their success is with cost structure: ‘I think that you have to be vertically integrated to play a part in this field, and if you don’t have your own diode capability, you are probably not going to be cost competitive,’ Leibinger added. In order to develop new products and adapt to the changing market, investing in research and development is essential, added VDMA’s Hein: ‘Continuously high capital spending for R&D purposes in the laser section is extremely important. We are now entering fields of application where R&D is crucial, but also very expensive,’ Hein continued. ‘The companies that are intensively active in the area of laser processing are investing heavily, because they have to stand increased competition and are challenging each other in the market.’ But it is not just the technological challenges. A further challenge faced by laser system manufacturers is the shift of demand to Asia, ➤


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