Is smaller better?

July 1, 2011
The show was touted as the world of miniaturization. I'm writing about the Laser World of Photonics, held in Munich at the end of May...

The show was touted as the world of miniaturization. I'm writing about the Laser World of Photonics, held in Munich at the end of May, where many of the 1100 product exhibitors went downsize. The Congress, held in conjunction with the world's largest laser show, included four forums, seven panels, and three special exhibits that featured presentations on applications in microprocessing and the micro-lasers that are and will be used to process these advanced manufacturing operations.

At Munich, small was big

In the six halls that made up this year's trade show, small was big, especially in the Production halls, where miniature lasers pumping out a variety of wavelengths at increasingly faster pulse speeds were prominent in dozens of exhibits. Femtosecond processing was a common feature in many exhibits.

How do you attract passers-by to stop and look at your new miniature products? High Q had one answer, as you can see by the photo at the left. I felt a little like I was appearing in the movie, "Honey I Shrunk the Kids".

Not to be outdone in the smaller is better category, even industry giant TRUMPF proudly showed the latest version of the 20,000th CO2 TruFlo laser, an 8 kW, only a little larger than the first 1 kW unit.

However, it was the compact, hold 'em in your hand, solid state lasers that were drawing attention at the show. I asked several of these laser manufacturers why they had the urge to downsize products. Other than the expected technology advances that enable this engineering feat, I learned that some of their industrial customers have applications that require multiple laser sources to ablate minute holes in certain products, for example. And grouping lasers to implement the processing cycle requires they be positioned close to the beam/workpiece interaction point.

That's not the way that Mitsubishi Diamond Industrial Co. chose to laser drill CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenide) glass substrates for photovoltaic applications. As reported by LIA Editorial Advisor Dr. Kunihiko Washio at the Munich Laser Marketplace meeting, the company used a laser processing machine from Mitsubishi Electric, composed of several high-speed galvos, to drill micro-holes at a rate of 4915 holes/sec. That's right; he said seconds.

More than 27,000 visitors came to the Munich fairgrounds for this year's version of Laser World of Photonics. At times, it seemed as if they were all in the two Production Laser halls, lending credence to statements made at the annual VDMA Working Committee on Laser and Laser Systems for Material Processing, where it was reported that demand for these products rose steeply in 2010 and shows a favorable trend for this year and well into 2012.

I am often asked, "What did you see that was new at the show?" That's a little like asking the first Martian traveler to Earth if he saw anything new. Where do you begin? In deference to the hundreds of new products on display, what impressed me most were the overall results of innovation that were instituted during the depths of the recession. Many companies reduced their workforce everywhere except in R&D, calculating that when the recession ended they wanted to be positioned for a growing market with new products that will place them as industry leaders. Their overwhelming output filled six halls at the Munich fair. You'll hear more about the products and their industrial applications as the months go by.

David A. Belforte
[email protected]

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