Technology advances and application developments highlighted at annual conference
More than 150 people attended this year’s Advanced Laser Applications Conference & Exhibition (ALAC) held at the Sheraton Inn in Ann Arbor, Michigan, from 19-21 September. This number seems ideal, allowing interfacing with many of the leading players in the laser applications community while also avoiding the sense of being “lost in the crowd.”
The first day of the conference was devoted to tutorials on subjects ranging from the basics of laser processing to applications, presented by individuals who have a deep understanding of the issues involved drawn from years of hands-on experience.
Additional events on the first day included a visit to the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and an open house at TRUMPF’s Laser Technology Center in Plymouth Township, which drew a large number of the conference registrants.
The bulk of the meeting was devoted to two days of technical sessions and the accompanying exposition. The number of papers being presented necessitated parallel sessions on both Tuesday and Wednesday. The session on laser cutting demonstrated the significant advances that have been seen in recent years, including increased use of CAD/CAM for productivity improvement, the ability to cut thick plate steels, the potential of new lasers (such as the disc), and sophisticated beam and focus control.
Although each session had a specific title, such as Microprocessing or Product Manufacturing Engineering, they often included a wide variety of applications, from cutting and drilling to marking and welding. Some of these “traditional” applications are being greatly enhanced by the extraordinary developments in laser technology itself. Only a few years ago, the emphasis in laser conferences would have been on the various processes enabled by CO2 and flashlamp-pumped Nd:YAG lasers. Today, by contrast, much of the interest is in the potential-and implementation-of high-power fiber lasers, diode lasers, and short-pulsed lasers, among others.
In terms of applications, there was no mistaking the interest in the role of lasers in the health industry and in micromachining, with these sessions drawing standing-room-only crowds. Even though excimer lasers have been around for several decades, it was interesting to learn more about their increased acceptance as robust industrial tools in the manufacture of semiconductor components and in marking applications.
Full details of the presentations can be obtained via the printed conference proceedings, by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 734-944-5850, but the presented papers left no doubt that the world of laser applications shows no signs of aging or a lack of new developments. Even well-known examples, such as the laser welding of automotive sheet steel, continue to be improved by innovations in beam control and handling and by better methods of quality inspection and control. And one is continually impressed by how often a technology that first appeared in the early days of laser manufacturing and then faded from view has subsequently seen a rebirth or, at least, vigorous new interest. Two very diverse examples are hybrid laser welding and laser shock hardening, both of which were discussed at this conference.
The accompanying exposition is always a valuable part of the conference, and this year’s was no exception. Some 20 exhibitors used all of the available space to display a range of products, both lasers and a wide variety of ancillary processing equipment.
The conference is organized by the International Laser Users Council (ILUC), which also hosted a reception and dinner. It was clear, based on attendee comments, that ALAC 2005 was valuable as a means to bring together people, with ideas, from an extraordinary range of backgrounds, united in their conviction that the laser will continue to stimulate and improve our lives in ways both known and yet to be seen.