Parity doesn't always mean equality

The potential compatibility of the fiber laser concept with the needs of the industrial workplace makes fiber laser attractive

As you read this, the winner of Super Bowl XXXVII will be known. It could be this year's champion will have a seasonal won/lost record that a few years ago would have relegated them to non-playoff status. Today, thanks to what the National Football League (NFL).calls parity, teams with a mediocre 8 and 8 record can make the playoffs, and with a lot of luck can potentially win the Super Bowl.

This means, of course, that teams with better, even superb, won/lost records end up as losers. If you supported a winning Super Bowl team that had a less-than-stellar record, you will be a strong proponent of parity. If instead you backed a loser that had a shining record you are likely burning up the sports talk show telephones with vehement comments on the leagues' efforts to give the "have nots" a shot at the big prize.

How a team with a mediocre seasonal record wins the Super Bowl is a matter of luck and timing—luck in the way the opponents match up and timing on how many starting players the team can return to health when needed. Position draws and injuries to opponents' key players (and none to the winner) are two prime reasons why last year our local New England Patriots ended up with the championship trophy.

This month ILS is doing it's part to create some parity in the industrial laser sector. In our case it's positioning rather than injuries that will move a new laser technology, high-power fiber lasers, up in the industrial acceptance standings.

So far only two laser technologies have competed for the leadership, carbon dioxide (CO2) and solid state (primarily rod type Nd: YAG). Excimer lasers have yet to break into the big time with annual installations in the thousands of units.

And diode lasers are still searching for the big application that will cause ILS to give them their own category in our annual economic review tables of market data.

Ultra-fast pulse lasers, attractive for their "cold" processing prospects, seem to be a niche player, situated in the microprocessing applications sector, which although potentially a large market is still some time away from the sales volumes that will allow them to be a major "player."

So what attracts us to fiber lasers? This month's features detail why their proponents think this laser has excellent prospects. ILS is more pragmatic. We think it is the potential compatibility of the fiber laser concept with the needs of the industrial workplace, especially in on-line situations.

I recall a conversation with a manufacturing engineer in a European auto plant, responding to why his company had selected fiber beam delivery high-power Nd:YAG lasers over CO2: With "it's flexibility, if we change the operation we do not have to move lasers to remain close to the assembly line, simply move the fiber." What he also didn't say was that a fiber delivery system is simpler to build and maintain than a hard optic beam delivery system.

Now segue to today, and think of a laser that is the fiber. Air-cooling removes the need for a chiller, reducing floor space and electrical requirements. If, indeed, fiber lasers will be able to deliver powerful beams with high beam quality, we may have reached the ultimate in on-line factory environment flexibility. Not to say this is a reality yet, but we do know that a European automaker has tested a multi-kilowatt fiber laser, and indications are that they are impressed by its performance as a welding device. Another knowledgeable user, currently testing a device, remarks—based on what he has seen so far—that fiber lasers have the potential to revolutionize laser material processing.

So ILS is playing the role of the NFL by seeking parity among laser types for the benefit of the fans—the end-users.

David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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