Europe embraces material processing

According to the Laser Focus World Annual Review and Forecast, material processing is the largest worldwide market for nondiode lasers and will account for laser sales of more than $800 million in 1997, an increase of 25% over 1996 (see Laser Focus World, January 1997, p. 72). Marking, metal working, semiconductor and microelectronic processing, and rapid-prototyping represent just a few of the more-significant laser-based materials-related applications.

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Europe embraces material processing

Stephen G. Anderson

Executive Editor

According to the Laser Focus World Annual Review and Forecast, material processing is the largest worldwide market for nondiode lasers and will account for laser sales of more than $800 million in 1997, an increase of 25% over 1996 (see Laser Focus World, January 1997, p. 72). Marking, metal working, semiconductor and microelectronic processing, and rapid-prototyping represent just a few of the more-significant laser-based materials-related applications.

The growth of material-processing markets seems likely to continue at impressive rates; as we understand more about the interaction of laser light and materials, the application of all types of lasers to material processing is becoming increasingly widespread. While understanding the processes involved is a key aspect of this growth, equally important to the expanding range of applications is the evolution of laser technology itself. Smaller, more-efficient, and more-cost-effective semiconductor lasers, for example, now compete directly in certain materials-related processes. Meanwhile, imaging systems used for process control are becoming more sophisticated, enabling increased automation and better quality control.

For this year`s European Report, which coincides with Laser 97 in Munich, Germany, we asked our contributing editor in the UK, Bridget Marx, to investigate laser-based material processing in Europe. Her report includes coverage of diode-laser processing--which is a significant part of the Laser 97 program, rapid prototyping--which has evolved from the early days of making plastic models to the fabrication of functional prototypes in various materials, and micromachining--which is growing in importance as technology advances demand smaller and smaller feature sizes.

Inevitably, with a report that covers such an extensive topic, and given the limited space available, there will be aspects of material- processing technology that have been omitted. Fortunately, Laser 97 will afford readers an opportunity to learn more and to actually see some of the systems described in Bridget`s report.

Click here to enlarge image

Click here to enlarge image

Cover: High-power diode lasers have advantages in welding heterogeneous materials such as metal and plastic components (see p. S5; photo courtesy ILT). Micrograph of three-dimensional array of tiny vertical nozzles illustrates micromachining possibilities for etching silicon with a continuous-wave argon-ion laser emitting at 488 nm (see p. S15; micrograph courtesy of the Technical University of Denmark).

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