Fraunhofer Conference showcases fiber laser progress

DRESDEN, GERMANY—The 4th International Workshop on Fiber Lasers, held in Dresden November 5–6, showcased once again the achievements by Fraunhofer and others in fiber laser development.

DRESDEN, GERMANY—The 4th International Workshop on Fiber Lasers, held in Dresden November 5–6, showcased once again the achievements by Fraunhofer and others in fiber laser development. According to David Belforte, chief editor for Industrial Laser Solutions (Nashua, NH), “Attendance…was nearly 400—good news in a period when business travel is being reduced.”

IPG Photonics’ (Oxford, MA) VP of R&D Denis Gapontsev, the plenary speaker, reviewed the progress in high-power fiber lasers. This year IPG demonstrated 6 kW of single-mode average power. This is not only a record, but already beyond the limit of 5 kW that he suggested to me just 3 years ago. Now he speculates that the single-mode limit may be 10 kW or so. The Livermore National Lab has suggested that 25 kW or more may be possible, if nature cooperates. As for multimode power, IPG has demonstrated 50 kW in a single fiber, but the limit is a matter of intense study—particularly for use in directed-energy weapons.

I presented some early perspectives on the 2009 market, pointing out that although it will be a tough year, fiber lasers will weather the downturn better than legacy products. Some sectors, such as energy and commodities, have fared well in 2008, or at least through the first half of the year. Others, such as semiconductors, started into recession in 2007. The tightening market has already put pressure on pricing with deep discounting on some laser products. It may also thin the ranks of suppliers a bit, with some early casualties already appearing.

The event also featured a workshop hosted by EPIC, the European Photonics Industry Consortium, aimed at enabling greater sales of fiber lasers. One group suggested some tightening of definitions and standards with regards to photodarkening and pump diode reliability, since the current terminology varies from vendor to vendor and application to application.

The conference had a distinctly German flavor to it, opening with a creative modern dance performance and hosted in Dresden’s stylish conference center. The evening dinner was held at the Panometer, featuring a 360º tableau of Dresden as it looked in 1756, giving a giddy impression of depth and realism, augmented by sound and light effects. The artist intended in part a tribute to Canaletto, the 18th century Italian painter famous for photographic quality landscape paintings using the camera obscura technique.

Low-power fiber lasers rule

In his conference review (see, Belforte noted that the meeting featured many papers on micromachining and ultrafast pulse cutting (nanosecond and picosecond) for solar-cell layers. “One might say that, of the three-dozen presentations, low-power fiber lasers ruled at this conference.”

Belforte said, “Notable on the tour to Fraunhofer IWS was the growth of this Institute where another facility is being added to an already remarkable campus, replete with fully equipped laboratories. Non-German visitors expressed admiration, and some wistfulness at the amount of Federal money being allocated to IWS compared to miserly funding by their home governments. For example, the U.S. government funding (however little) disappears when the time comes to apply the technology,” added Belforte. “Some think that a concerted, government-supported effort to support applied manufacturing technology in the U.S. is necessary if this country hopes to capitalize on this valuable part of our economy.”

Belforte pointed out that while conference talk at the social events centered on the faltering economy, attendees were encouraged to learn that TRUMPF took in 190 machine and laser system orders in 5 days at the EuroBlech conference.

—Tom Hausken, director, Components Practice, Strategies Unlimited

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