Innovation creates opportunities
Many new and interesting developments are taking place in the field of laser-based materials processing.
Many new and interesting developments are taking place in the field of laser-based materials processing. These markets involve metalworking, semiconductor and microelectronics processing, marking, and several smaller niches such as rapid-prototyping and nozzle drilling. The field ranks second in terms of worldwide laser sales (after optical data storage) in the Laser Focus World annual review and forecast of laser markets (see LFW, January 2003, p.73). Materials-processing developments include new wavelengths and faster pulses, as well as advances in some underlying laser technologies that have reduced the cost and improved the reliability of these systems. Such changes are driving the emergence of novel market niches related to materials processing, while at the same time growth is occurring in some existing applications as the market continues to develop around the technology.
Innovative approaches to the manufacture of specialty fiber (highlighted on this month's cover) combined with major improvements in pump-laser diodes have resulted in fiber lasers with specifications, cost, and reliability that are increasingly competitive with traditional lasers and will likely lead to fiber lasers being adopted routinely in metal working and other materials-related applications (see p. 85).
Meanwhile, the advent of relatively affordable turnkey ultrafast laser systems means that lasers can now be used to process nearly all materials, says Andreas Ostendorf of the Laser Zentrum (Hannover, Germany) in our European Report. The report notes that femtosecond systems are uniquely suited to emerging high-precision micromachining applications and other specialty market niches (see p. 111).
One of the fastest growing materials-processing applications is marking . . . but its growth has as much to do with market demand—driven by security and traceability, among other things—as with technology advances. And laser markers can provide better resolution than existing ink-jet-based alternatives at an increasingly competitive cost, which offers still more growth opportunities for laser-based systems.
All these developments and related systems, as well as those from many other optoelectronic-related markets will be featured at Laser 2003 in Munich, Germany, later this month (see www.laser.de). Laser is one of the largest applications-oriented photonic events worldwide. We'll be there and we'll be covering what we find in upcoming issues of Laser Focus World.
Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief