I recently had a leaking faucet in the kitchen sink. In pulling it apart to replace an O-ring, I looked closely at the ball valve consisting of two hemispheres laser-welded with a seam so smooth that it almost looks decorative. I recall when Delta, the faucet maker, approached laser companies looking for a source to circumferentially seam-weld the sections. Laser Machining (Somerset, WI) undertook an outsourcing contract to laser-weld the part and Bill Lawson, who was president at the time, told me they did it exclusively for 8–10 years prior to Delta seeking a second source.
I mention this to make a point. The original design and material choice date back to a 1952 patent design for a ball valve to provide a combined volume and blending control, with a simple and effective means for sealing the valve element. Shortly thereafter, Alex Manoogian purchased the rights to the patent and introduced the Delta faucet in 1954, making it the first to use a ball-valve design. Delta's engineers tapped into the laser industry looking for technology improvements that would ensure a leak-tight seal that would last "forever." The ball valve, which Delta replaced under their lifetime warranty, wasn't leaking at the laser weld joint—the problem was elsewhere. The point is that as a result of astute engineering and process technology advances such as precision laser welding, Delta has been able to offer customers an extended part warranty.
This brings me to this issue of ILS, which as usual is packed with laser processing information intended to assist manufacturing professionals in improving productivity of the products their companies supply under warranty.
A good example is provided by Dan Robinson (Weil Engineering), whose laser welding systems improve the assembly and lifetime of auto exhaust systems (see p. 10). Stefan Colle (LVD Strippit) describes how a fiber laser system that cuts steel panels used to fabricate housings for air filters simplified operator training, enabling a small custom-filter maker to experience short investment payback (see p. 24).
Improving warranty is important in automobile windshields. David Benderly (PhotoScribe Technologies) cites this as a reason that subsurface ultrafast pulse laser marking prevents glass fracture and provides a tamper-free identifying mark (see p. 12). Ivan Bobrinetskiy (Aimen) explains the ability to laser-generate freeform structures with sub-micron resolution and at high processing speeds, allowing the rapid development of a wide variety of devices for biology, security, or communications (see p. 16).
Laser joining polymers has, to a degree, solved a broad industry problem by enabling the fusion of types of sensitive assemblies. Dave Girardot (Rofin) points out that controlling the energy input into the joining zone is a significant advantage for many assemblies (see p. 26). In addition to joining, Shibin Jiang (AdValue Photonics) suggests that 2μm fiber lasers can subsurface/multilayer mark, cut, and drill thin plastic films (see p. 18).
Scott Sullivan (ESI) tells us that femtosecond lasers are starting to gain popularity for a range of industrial micromachining applications, and his status report identifies a surprising number of industrial applications already in use (see p. 28). And, in yet another addition to the ranks of fiber laser cutter suppliers, Update (see p. 2) introduces a 6kW Polish unit used for cutting steel storage containers.
David A. Belforte