New kids on the block

Industrial applications using newer laser types increase

As the editorial was being assembled, it became evident that I had loaded up this issue with features describing processes using lasers that were not a reality a short few years ago. This is in line with our intention to bring readers new applications dealing with their use in manufacturing operations.

When Tony Hoult started working with fiber lasers, he was like a "kid with a new toy"—whenever we talked, his eyes would light up with wonder at the things he was accomplishing for the first time. That wonder has not diminished with the passing years and this month, he describes the results from lasers that operate in unexplored irradiance and power regimes, extending the capabilities of current surface preparation, cleaning, and coating removal processes that produce smaller-scale finer, shallower features, usually referred to as laser texturing.

Jason Jones comments on the recent integration of laser-based cladding/metal deposition systems onto machine tools to yield hybrid additive and subtractive capability that offers optimized processing of parts, representing a new path to access additive manufacturing. Not too long ago when lecturing on lasers in manufacturing operations, I would receive blank looks from the audience when I used additive with manufacturing. But not today, thanks to 3D printing.

Barbara Stumpp introduces readers to metamaterials—artificial materials consisting of microstructures that cannot be produced with conventional lithography methods, but can be with a 3D printing system. Examples of this are in medicine and the process engineering industry that need small, reliable test systems that work quickly and accurately as lab-on-a-chip.

And Raj Patel and Jim Bovatsek present results achieved from a high-power ultraviolet (UV) hybrid fiber laser with pulse-shaping technology used to texture, cut, and drill carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) material at fast speeds with a low heat-affected zone (HAZ) and without damaging the carbon fibers. The stronger absorption at UV wavelengths results in good-quality machining.

Commonly used 3D laser welding of automobile bodies has attracted interest in rail car manufacturing and a number of welded assembly applications are now in production. However, as Mariana Forrest and Holger Alder explain, new rail car manufacturing applications involve complex and critical operations in which the acquisition and management of large amounts of process data is mandatory. They illustrate the solution in a recent disk-laser rail car welding procedure.

I've been the ILS editor-in-chief for many years and I can't recall an issue with every feature describing an industrial application using a new laser type. I see this as a positive sign for the future of industrial laser processing.

David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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