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while the fi ber laser cuts through the fi ber, resulting in a nice clean cut, even under a microscope. In the fl exible electronics market, the system can


employ a similar dual wavelength strategy to selective- ly ablate or etch polyimide bonded to copper and also pattern the copper—eliminating a variety of steps used with conventional chemical etching methods.


as plastic fi lms, industrial fabrics, engineering plas- tics, laminating adhesives and composite materials. Rice is using the MultiWave Hybrid technology to experiment with Laser Induced Graphene (LIG) supercapacitors, LIG fuel cells and to conduct other laser-material interaction research. “We’re only limited by our imaginations,” said


Prof. James Tour, PhD, a synthetic organic chemist at Rice’s Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, where LIG was discovered in 2014. Graphene produced by the LIG technique has broad application in fi elds such as energy stor- age and catalysis. “The ability to explore multiple wavelengths and reaction environments is expected to lead to great advancements.” For now, the parts used in the MultiWave Hybrid need to be fl at with a maximum part size of 61 × 33 × 12" (1550 × 838 × 304 mm), but it will someday likely handle larger workpieces.


More and more composites are coming to market as manufacturers aim to remove weight from planes, tanks and cars. The fl exible electronics market is also growing rapidly. In a sign of their advance, one of the hubs of the growing National Network for Manufac- turing Innovation is NextFlex, the Flexible Hybrid


Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute.


Schematic representation of the MultiWave Hybrid TM optics system, which allows laser beams of three differing wavelengths (indicated by colors [A], [B], and [C]) to be combined into a single, coaxial beam [D], on a common plane [E].


Photo courtesy Universal Laser Systems “You can do it all at once,” Hillman explained.


“The laser software interprets the design and drives the laser beam away …”


At plus or minus 50 microns, the system is not


yet as precise as chemical etching, which can deliver in the 10–100 micron line width area. But that’s expected to change over time, and “it meets the need for most fl exible electronics,” said Hillman, who presented a related technical paper at the Lasers And Applications in Science and Engineering (LASE) Symposium in San Francisco in February. The laser system opens the door to a whole new arena of laser systems, and ULS and Rice University (Houston, TX) scientists are now studying the effects of both near-and far-wavelength infrared energy si- multaneously or applied separately to materials such


LF4 AdvancedManufacturing.org


Other Developments in Laser Technology The MultiWave Hybrid is just one example of the


variety of new process technologies made possible with lasers. In fact, laser applications that just a few years ago were thought to be impossible or too expensive are becoming feasible and cost effective. The largest market share for laser technology has been in the fabrication industry for fl atbed laser cutters. As laser powers have increased, cost per watt has decreased. Motion systems have also delivered faster speeds and positional accuracy, which has grown almost 10% year over year. Thousands of laser cutting systems are making


parts for fi rms large and small. Most are safe, reliable, productive, accurate, serviceable and easy to use. If you operate a modern laser, you will fi nd it is even better than a similar machine just a few years old. Looking back, the fi rst innovation in the early laser resonator and focus-


1980s was to strap a CO2


ing lens on a punching machine to create a laser cutting machine. Dual pallet design machines then made lasers more productive. In the 1990s, higher


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