New lasers change materials processing

The processing of materials is one of the largest applications of lasers and certainly the most diverse in terms of the laser technologies concerned and the manner in which they are used. For example, working with metals typically involves high-power carbon dioxide or Nd:YAG systems. On a much different scale, other lasers facilitate fabrication of microelectronic devices. Notwithstanding these established successes, development of new or better ways of processing old and new materials with lase

New lasers change materials processing

Stephen G. Anderson

Executive Editor

stevega@pennwell.com

The processing of materials is one of the largest applications of lasers and certainly the most diverse in terms of the laser technologies concerned and the manner in which they are used. For example, working with metals typically involves high-power carbon dioxide or Nd:YAG systems. On a much different scale, other lasers facilitate fabrication of microelectronic devices. Notwithstanding these established successes, development of new or better ways of processing old and new materials with lasers continues unabated.

Long considered as suitable only for laboratory-based research, ultrafast lasers are currently evolving into a technology with potential for the "real world," mostly due to the development of diode pumping and Ti:sapphire-based systems. This, combined with the ability of femtosecond pulses to deliver energy into a material without causing significant collateral damage, means that ultrafast sources could eventually be ideal for precision micromachining and certain medical applications (see p. 79). At the same time, even relatively mature laser technologies are benefiting from new research. The ability of carbon dioxide lasers to produce high continuous power with relatively high efficiency has put them at the forefront of many industrial materials-processing applications. Recently more-compact and efficient devices have emerged that could open up new applications for these lasers (see p. 131).

High-power semiconductor devices are of growing importance to materials processing. They offer relatively high output from an efficient and compact package and can often compete directly against established technologies as well as opening up new opportunities. In Europe, many firms now offer locally produced competitive products. In this month`s European Report, contributing editor Bridget Marx takes a look at these firms and their products, noting some of the specific materials-processing applications (see p. 104).

Increasing capacity

The European Report also notes that telecommunications is a primary market area for diode lasers in Europe; Marx provides an overview of the related product offerings available from European manufacturers.

In fact, telecommunications is the leading application for semiconductor lasers and is currently undergoing something of a revolution because of the incessant demand for more speed and higher-capacity networks. This, in turn, requires new and improved components for the fiberoptic networks involved and is the topic of our fourth Optoelectronics World supplement, which follows p. 146.

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