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Lasers


More reliability means these once delicate systems can live in work-a-day shops and challenging environments. “Lasers that process plate metal and sheetmetal could be sitting next to doors that open to winter weather and run automati- cally,” explained Rogowski. “This is enabled by reliability enhancements that have improved in just the last two years.” Enhanced automation features are growing as well. He listed


options from Trumpf that automatically center beams of CO2 lasers using sonic waves, nozzle changers that automatically change nozzles, and single cutting heads for all sheet ranges in different applications. While he believes CO2


lasers will remain in the market,


“the big advancement in just the last few years is the intro- duction of solid-state lasers,” said Rogowski.


Rise of Solid State Tom Kugler, fiber systems manager for Laser Mechanisms (Novi, MI) agrees about the importance of the rise of solid- state disk and fiber lasers. While CO2


lasers were once the


only practical choice for heavy-duty laser processing applica- tions like cutting and welding, these newer solid-state lasers offer advantages in power, efficiency, and materials they can cut. “Like the old Nd:YAG solid-state lasers, their light is roughly 1 µm in wavelength,” he said, as compared to the 10.6-m wavelength light of CO2


be delivered via fiber-optic cables, a convenient way to move and mount laser energy compared to the optics and mirrors required of the far infrared CO2


. The 1-µm wavelength is also


absorbed better by more materials, especially nonferrous met- als like copper and brass, expanding utility.


lasers. One-micron beams can


Solid-state lasers delivered through optical fibers are cutting in 3D and in nonferrous metals.


He also notes that these newer solid-state lasers boast efficiencies of 30% or more. While this helps with electricity costs, there are other practical advantages. “For lasers up to 500 watts, you can buy air-cooled lasers, which simplifies their use and lowers their cost. There are a lot of processes done in that 100–500-watt range,” he said.


What applications could benefit the most from these newer solid-state lasers? He reports seeing more instances of lasers performing 3D cutting, equipped on multiaxis robots and CNC- guided machine tools. “[Solid-state lasers] are also definitely making their mark in the flat sheetmetal market,” he added. “These used to be all mounted with CO2


lasers. In the last


three–four years, solid-state 1-µm lasers are showing they are faster in thin metal, up to three times faster in 1–2-mm-thick metal sheets, especially in aluminum or polished stainless.”


92 ManufacturingEngineeringMedia.com | November 2014


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