Investigating fiber laser applications

According to SPI Lasers applications laboratory, fiber lasers are showing promising results for plastic welding, scribing and cutting polymers, and ablation of thin films

SPI Lasers applications laboratory today announced that work conducted at the applications facility managed by Dr. Tony Hoult is challenging the perception of the capabilities of near-infrared lasers using state of the art fiber lasers. Areas such as plastic welding for the medical and mobile phone industries, scribing and cutting polymers for the automotive industry, and ablation of thin films for the photovoltaic industry reportedly are showing excellent results when processed with a fiber laser. SPI is expecting more results for the fiber laser in the near future as it is asking for more organizations to come forward with further challenges for the fiber laser.

The welding of plastics was not thought to be suitable for either the high brightness of fiber lasers or the beam characteristics. However, when tested by the applications lab, a careful manipulation of the laser beam has made it easy to produce welds in polymers that are efficient, precise, and time saving. These types of plastic welds are commonly produced for the medical and mobile phone industries.

Other examples include cutting polymers for the automotive industry, scribing and cutting alumina, and cutting and micro-machining of silicon. Also of real interest currently is the laser ablation of thin films for the photovoltaic industry. In this case, using very high laser frequencies up to 500 kHz for thin film removal produces precise material removal. This means that the base material, be it glass, plastics, or silicon, remains untouched when processed by the fiber laser.

"This is the first time in the laser industry that such high repetition rates have been available from this type of laser, and it brings a totally new level of control and sophistication to a wide range of very precise surface removal and surface structuring processes, at a cost comparable to that of an industrial marking laser," said Hoult. "As a result of this, more costly diode-pumped solid-state lasers, at up to five times the price, can in many cases be replaced by a fiber laser from SPI Lasers."

These results come on the back of an announcement from the applications laboratory in September that when cutting silicon using a 200W CW-M 1070nm fiber laser, cutting speeds of up to 6m/min on 200 micron polycrystalline silicon were readily achieved (see Laser cutting silicon for solar cell production).

Jeffrey C. Kabahit, the laser applications engineer at the applications laboratory, states, "When we first opened the facility, we were inundated with requests for proof of principle. We approached each request with a can-do attitude and have been amazed at some of the results."

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