Cambridge, MA—As this month's editorial (see page 28) points out, flexibility is often a major factor in the choice of a high-power laser system for a production operation. Since the mid-1990s high-power (>1 kW) CO2 lasers have lost market share to kilowatt-level, fiber-delivered Nd:YAG lasers, especially in auto industry applications.
Now the tide may be about to change. In the December 12, 2002, issue of Nature, researchers from MIT report on their success transmitting 10.6µm radiation through a dielectric-lined hollow fiber, with only a
1.0 dB m–1 transmission loss. Although the Nature letter references use of only 25 W of CO2 power, several of the researchers have sufficient confidence in the prospects of this material passing kilowatt levels
of power that they have formed a new company, OmniGuide Communications, to exploit the potential of flexible transmission of CO2 laser light.
This isn't the first time that such developments have raised the hopes of proponents of high-power CO2 lasers. In the June 1993 issue of Industrial Laser Review (predecessor to ILS) Jim Harrington of Rutgers University reported on the use of hollow core sapphire fibers passing kilowatt CO2 laser light. At that time we followed up by attempting to get some of this material to an independent researcher for testing against equivalent power Nd:YAG lasers. The commercial company producing this material, for one reason or another, did not follow through, so the concept disappeared off the scene.
However, current market interest in high-power fiber lasers may lead OmniGuide to a potential market for high-power CO2 beam transmission as an alternative. One of our sources, a custom laser system builder, is already excited about the prospects. Check out OmniGuide's website at www.omni-guide.com.—DAB