Industrial lasers in Russia

The market for laser introduction into industry is at the stage of steady development, and it is well developed for execution of joint R&D projects with foreign centers and companies

Vladislav Ya. Panchenko and Vladimir S. Golubev

The market for laser introduction into industry is at the stage of steady development, and it is well developed for execution of joint R&D projects with foreign centers and companies

Industrial laser applications and production in Russia continue steady development in close relationship to the general situation in Russian industry. Russian scientists and engineers are in the mainstream of global laser physics and technology and their skills will ensure the development of industrial lasers and applications, if the general economic situation becomes satisfactory within the next few years.

History
In Russia, research and development in laser physics and technology, as well as industrial lasers and applications, began in the early 1960s. This activity was always a substantial part of the world laser R&D mainstream, especially in fundamental research and military applications. For example, Russian scientists initiated or participated in the development of many types of laser active media (excimer lasers and semiconductor lasers), methods of pumping (E-beam, nuclear radiation, combined pumping, gas-dynamical laser and solar-pumped lasers), laser radiation control (optical resonators and nonlinear optics), research on laser-matter interaction, fundamentals of laser materials processing, nonlinear laser spectroscopy, high-precision measurements, laser chemistry, ultrashort-pulse generation and other topics.

A variety of low- and intermediate power (up to 1 kW) CO2 and Nd:YAG (up to 50 W) industrial lasers for laser materials processing were created in the 1960s by R&D centers and manufacturing enterprises of the Soviet electronic branch of industry, in close cooperation with the institutes of the Academy of Sciences of USSR (now the Russian Academy of Sciences—RAS). By the late 1980s, the electronic branch had manufactured several thousands of industrial lasers. All the basic laser processes, such as scribing, trimming and welding, were introduced into the manufacture of electronic devices.

Beginning in the 1970s, many centers developed a wide variety of solid-state and CO2 industrial lasers. These were made by the following: Lebedev Physical Institute (FIAN RAS, Moscow), General Physics Institute (GPI RAS, Moscow), Vavilov State Optical Institute—GOI (St Petersburg), Institute on Laser & Information Technologies (ILIT RAS, Shatura), Institute for Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (ITPM RAS, Novosibirsk), Institute on Problems of Mechanics (IPM RAS, Moscow), Institute for High Temperatures (IVTAN RAS, Moscow), R&D Center "TRINITI", Troitsk, Institute for Electrophysical Apparatus (NIIEFA, St. Petersburg), Institute on Electrothermic Equipment (VNIIETO, Moscow), Institute on Electrowelding Equipment (VNIIESO, St. Petersburg), and the R&D Center "Polius" (Moscow).

Along with R&D on industrial lasers, these institutes as well as some others, including Institute of Metallurgy (IMET RAS, Moscow), Lomonosov Moscow State University and Moscow Baumann Technical University (MGTU), conducted basic and applied research on the fundamentals of laser materials processing. Their results were experimentally introduced into the production cycle of many enterprises in the machine-building industries such as automotive, aircraft and agricultural for cutting, welding and surface modification applications.

The State Programs for Development and Introduction of laser material processing into industry coordinated this R&D activity. The manufacture of industrial lasers and laser systems was allocated to the Electrotechnical Industry, under scientific supervision of the Academy of Sciences. Prior to 1990, hundreds of high-power industrial lasers and systems were manufactured and delivered to industrial enterprises. After the economic crisis in the 1990s, Russian industry again became interested in industrial laser applications, the reutilizations of R&D, and manufacturing efforts in this field.

R&D today
Today more than 100 centers, laboratories, institutes and universities are engaged in R&D in lasers and applications. The centers mentioned above are continuing their research with the addition of several important R&D centers and universities: "Plasma" (Ryazan), Russian Research Center "Kurchatov Institute," Lomonosov Moscow State University, Institute of Laser Physics Siberian Branch RAS (Novosibirsk), Institute for Laser Physics, (St. Petersburg), Institute for Fine Mechanics and Optics (St. Petersburg), and universities in Vladimir, Kazan, Tula, Kovrov, Novosibirsk, Samara, Barnaul, Ekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. All these universities have chairs on laser materials processing and are staffed by graduate scientists and engineers who are specialists in this field.

Most of those interested in industrial laser technology participate in international and national technical societies that are engaged in the promotion of applications and the exchange of information. Government establishments that coordinate and conduct the technical and financial support of R&D on lasers and processing are: Ministry for Industry, Science and Technology, Ministry of Education, Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research. Many centers and universities have won international grants or have received R&D contracts from international industrial companies, governmental organizations and universities.

Manufacturers
The organizations mentioned above manufacture industrial lasers, laser components or laser machining systems. The most active are: "Polius" (solid-state lasers and laser marking units), "Plasma" (gas lasers), ILIT RAS (high-power CO2 lasers and machining units, optical components for HP CO2 lasers, pulsed laser deposition equipment, laser installations equipment for rapid prototyping and adaptive optical systems), NIIEFA (high-power EB-sustained CO2 lasers and marking units), "IRE—Polius," Friazino (fiber lasers), GPI (excimer lasers), Center of Laser Technologies, St. Petersburg (laser marking systems) and "TULAMASH," Tula (solid-state laser system).

Several state enterprises and about 50 small private companies manufacture industrial lasers of different types and models. The state enterprises, incorporated in the electronic branch of industry, produce low-power gas lasers, middle-power solid-state and CO2 lasers. Private companies manufacture the products developed by their base centers and enterprises. The availability of Russian industrial laser products is four to six months. Information on industrial laser, systems and laser components manufacturers is available on laser manufacturers' Web sites, at www.laser.ru and in the Internet resources catalog: www.pingwin.ru. science technics new technology laser technics.

Applications diversity
The main difference in laser materials processing development is the participation of scientists from the R&D centers and universities in the introduction of their results into industry. Laser materials processing fundamentals have been developed and investigated experimentally over the past 10-20 years: laser cutting; welding; surface hardening, cladding and alloying; hole perforation; laser-plasma thin-film deposition; rapid laser prototyping; and real-time diagnostics.

The practical importance of this R&D and the industrial lasers developed by industry is growing steadily. Approximately 200 industrial machine-building enterprises and job shops apply lasers in the following production tasks:

  • cutting: sheet steels (up to 10 mm thick), plastics, woods, cables
  • welding: steel tubes (5 mm thick), disk saw blades, gears, driving wheels
  • surface hardening or cladding: rolling mills, parts of agricultural machines, engine sleeves, valves, bearing rings
  • marking: tools, device parts
  • perforation: noise-absorbing panels, sieves

Companies engaged in automobile and aircraft building, shipbuilding, railway transport, metallurgy, electrotechnical equipment, agriculture and food processing machines and consumer goods use laser applications.

In addition, the R&D centers develop new applications of interest to the world market. An example is a novel laser process installation for long-distance rapid prototyping based on stereolithography technology, supported by Internet communication of customer and producer developed by ILIT RAS. Another example is a mobile laser complex for remote cutting of heavy objects using a CW 50kW CO2 laser developed by TRINITI. The GPI RAS has developed laser-based synthesis of diamond-like films. Kurchatov Institute in cooperation with other centers and industry has developed and put into operation a factory for carbon isotope separation.

Today, the market for industrial lasers and related systems is from 100 to 200 units per year. Most system components are from Russian manufacturers. According to our evaluation, the market mainly wants the following: cutting machines for machine-building branches and job shops, marking and perforation systems (all branches) and surface cladding systems (transport and agriculture machine repair).

Future
R&D centers and universities continue to develop and introduce industrial lasers and advanced technologies for material processing. Examples of new lasers are: RF-pumped compact slab CO2 and CO-lasers (FIAN; "Plasma"; Institute of Laser Physics RAS, Novosibirsk); fast-flow, high-beam-quality 3-6kW CO2 lasers using adaptive and diffraction optics (ILIT RAS); COIL lasers (Samara branch FIAN); multi-kW CO2 lasers (TRINITI); heterostructures for semiconductor lasers (Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute, St. Petersburg); diode-pumped solid-state lasers and direct diode lasers (IOFAN and "Polius") and fiber lasers (IRE—Friazino).

Papers presented at the international conferences show that advanced industrial laser applications are being developed by Russian R&D centers and universities. Most interesting are 3D object fabrication; processing of Al, Ti and Cu-alloys; decommissioning of nuclear reactors; 3D-milling machines; combined laser-mechanical processing, welding of thick steel sections and composite metals and oxide-proof coating of metals.

Prof. Vladislav Ya. Panchenko is the director of the Institute on Laser and Information Technologies, Russian Academy of Sciences (ILIT RAS) corresponding member of RAS. He is the president of SPIE Russia Chapter. Contact him at e-mail panch@laser.ru. Prof. Vladimir S. Golubev is the deputy director of ILIT RAS. Contact him at e-mail golubev@laser.ru

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