That was then, this is now

Dec. 30, 2019
2020 will mark Industrial Laser Solutions' editor in chief David Belforte's 50th year in this exciting technology.
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Many have followed me, for more than 10 years, in these blogs and for 34 years on the pages of Industrial Laser Solutions, so, as in past years, I wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year.

I’m not sure how many of you have been with me since 1986, when Industrial Laser Solutionspredecessor was founded. And I think those who were with me in 1970, when I started, are mostly not active in industrial laser material processing technology today.

Yes, that’s right2020 will mark my 50th year in this exciting technology. I trace my roots back to a group of industry professionals, gathered together at American Optical Corporation (AO), in that company’s first intrapreneurial (funded off the company’s P&L books, part of the Research Division annual budget) venture. The mission of this Laser Products Department (LPD) was to establish an industrial laser market for the company’s internally developed (IP) scientific lasers. LPD was given three years to reach a corporate pre-set revenue generation level, which at the time, with the total global industrial laser market an undocumented $2 million, was a formidable task.

LPD was not successful profit-wise for reasons attributable to adjusted corporate budget restraints and a slower manufacturing industry acceptability than anticipated, so the parent corporation recommended we sell off the venture. But we had made gained prominence by producing world-class applications developments.

Proof of LPD's premise is that the sold-off neodymium solid-state business continued pioneering AO-developed applications and the newly formed Laser Inc. morphed into Coherent General, now part of a $1.5 billion global laser market. The nascent LPD CO­2 laser cutting business, which became Ferranti Electric, Inc., introduced laser sheet metal cutting into North America, which is now a $2 billion laser business globally.

Bill Shiner (now with IPG Photonics) and I are the only members of the original AO group still active in industrial laser materials processing. While recently attending an advisor’s meeting to the Optical Heritage Museum (Southbridge, MA), we were asked to put together a list of the industrial applications that LPD developed and the current state of these accomplishments in today’s industrial manufacturing sectors. We identified 28 industrial developments the applications lab under me and with Bill the Applications Manager pioneered. Among these are drilling medical glass tubing, cutting carpet material, drilling baby bottle nipples, continuous slitting paper, drilling diamonds, drilling surgical needles and implantables, and drilling micron hole fluid filters and aerosol nozzles, to name a few still in common usage.

Now entering the 35th year of publication, the magazine I co-founded, now Industrial Laser Solutions, continues the mission established in 1986to educate manufacturing professionals to the technical and cost advantages of industrial laser material processing. As I edit the cutting-edge articles contributed to Industrial Laser Solutions, I think back to those very early days when each successful application was cause for a celebration. Now it’s commonplace, but rarely earth-shatteringat least that’s how we viewed it then.

About the Author

David Belforte | Contributing Editor

David Belforte (1932-2023) was an internationally recognized authority on industrial laser materials processing and had been actively involved in this technology for more than 50 years. His consulting business, Belforte Associates, served clients interested in advanced manufacturing applications. David held degrees in Chemistry and Production Technology from Northeastern University (Boston, MA). As a researcher, he conducted basic studies in material synthesis for high-temperature applications and held increasingly important positions with companies involved with high-technology materials processing. He co-founded a company that introduced several firsts in advanced welding technology and equipment. David's career in lasers started with the commercialization of the first industrial solid-state laser and a compact CO2 laser for sheet-metal cutting. For several years, he led the development of very high power CO2 lasers for welding and surface treating applications. In addition to consulting, David was the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Industrial Laser Solutions magazine (1986-2022) and contributed to other laser publications, including Laser Focus World. He retired from Laser Focus World in late June 2022.

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