LME 2013 Experts Provide Insight Into Continued Laser Market Growth

wind turbine blades

Orlando, FL (PRWEB) October 25, 2013

Expanded exhibit space, new exhibitors and networking opportunities, and more working laser systems took the third annual Lasers for Manufacturing Event? (LME?) to a new level of impact for the laser community.

The Laser Institute of Americas unique event, held Sept. 11-12 at the Schaumburg Convention Center, showed more signs that it is maturing as a must-attend event. Bringing together laser makers, systems integrators and providers of all manner of related equipment and services, LME 2013 gave attendees the know-how they need to get laser-based manufacturing projects up and running.

Once again, the Laser Technology Showcase Theater at the front of the active exhibit hall drew many standing-room-only crowds for industry experts including:

LIA Past President David Belforte, who noted big opportunities for laser sales and applications, particularly in microprocessing, production of SUVs and composite-heavy narrow-body passenger jets and their engines, gas and wind turbines, smart phones and even agricultural equipment.
Prabhjot Singh of GE Global Research, who challenged the laser community to meet the growing global need for additive manufacturing productivity, which will require hundreds of new laser-based devices.
Magnus Bengtsson of Coherent, who addressed ultrafast lasers advances, including cataract surgery with femtosecond lasers and dicing sapphire wafers to make LEDs with picosecond lasers.
Silke Pflueger of DirectPhotonics, who demonstrated the advantages ultra-high brightness direct diodes bring to the table.
Jason Hillenbrand of Amada of America, who compared the cost and process differences between fiber and CO2 systems in cutting applications.

LME continues to brilliantly serve its primary function: to bring together those seeking the bottom-line benefits of laser technology face to face with the providers of that technology. Attendees were treated to expert analysis of the full spectrum of available options and considerations fiber, CO2, ultrafast, macro and micro processing, and more.

They also received updates from nearly 40 exhibitors who presented details of their latest products and services on the exhibit hall stage. For example, Visotek founder and CEO Sheila Jensen discussed the companys diode-based MetalPass unit, developed in conjunction with the Navy for laser cleaning and cladding corrosion-prone areas in one pass. The company has added five Fraunhofer engineers and will expand its Livonia, MI, facility by 10,000 square feet. And Laserage of Waukegan, IL, detailed the broad range of work it does with an inventory of 70 lasers, including cutting of tubes and coronary stents, forms and plastics.

On the show floor were some newer products, including updated CO2 devices by ALKRAS, which the company touted as costing 50 percent to 80 percent less than other devices, with 50 percent more efficiency and 40 percent to 50 percent more cutting speed and quality than fiber lasers. Meanwhile, Ophir brought its new BeamWatch monitor, which the company says measures very high-power lasers without having to intercept or disrupt the beam. Attendees also saw the compact Tangor ultrafast lasers by Amplitude Syst?mes, which even has a couple of customers doing nanosurgery with its devices.

My professor recommended that we come down here and check it out just to see all the applications that lasers are doing, said Mark Hopping, who entered a laser program at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, IL, about two weeks before LME. Its blown me away and reassured me that this is a good field to get into, said the former financial analyst. Everyone was really helpful in describing everything they do and what the lasers they use are for.

Its About The Economics

It wasnt too long ago that lasers were considered a laboratory curiosity, noted Patrick Grace of TRUMPF in his address Cost Advantages of Laser Processing. How far has laser-based manufacturing technology come in the past 10 to 20 years and how much business is at stake? Consider:

GE puts about 20 additively manufactured fuel nozzles in each of its new LEAP engines for the latest generation of the 737, Singh noted. Manufactured through direct metal laser melting on machines featuring 200- to 400-watt fiber lasers, each nozzle takes about a day to make on one machine. With more than 5,000 engines sold, GE needs to fabricate close to 100,000 nozzles. We probably need a few hundred machines to support production. He said GE has about 20 machines with more on the way.

To our knowledge, as things stand today, most of the vendors that supply these machines are small, and the supply chain is just beginning to take hold, he noted. The potential of this technology is so huge that we need your help to try and mature the supply chain so we can take this technology into production. Lasers are a big part of it; materials handling is a big part of it. And this is just one component; we have a range of components that we are interested in making (with this process). The engine is slated to enter production in 2016, which means I need to get all these parts ready for assembly onto an engine in 2015. We are looking for high throughput on our machines; we are looking for much higher reliability, and thats where you guys can all help us achieve our goals.

These goals also include additively manufacturing components like valves and ducting. By redesigning multipart components into one piece and manufacturing them with powder-bed processes, Singh estimates GE can save a few hundred pounds per engine which translates into billions of dollars less in fuel consumption for his customers. In a recent design challenge GE issued, about 700 engineers competed, with the most successful able to remove up to 80 percent of the weight of an engine bracket.

The number of applications this technology will eventually enable is huge, he asserted. This is just one GE business. Our land-based gas turbine business is very interested, as is oil and gas.

In his tutorial on microprocessing, CEO Ron Schaeffer of PhotoMachining in Pelham, NH, noted that the medical device market can be lucrative for job shops. Although it is hard to get into the sector, it is easy to stay in once qualified because large firms want to avoid having to recertify new vendors. He also noted that, even though his is one of three job shops within 10 miles of one another, they rarely overlap competitively because of the volume of work available. (As Belforte noted, $ 2.8 billion worth of stents were sold in the US last year.)

And since lasers are the only way to manufacture many complex medical devices and components like stents, catheters and diagnostic tools, profits can be generous. For example, diabetes test strips include a thin conductive layer of metal or ink patterned with lasers. This has been a big area for us; weve got laser systems doing this in several of the top manufacturers of these devices.

In an exhaustive study of system and operating costs, Schaeffer noted that picosecond lasers are coming down in price to the point where they are as attractive as nanosecond devices for machining. He also emphasized that CO2 lasers, the most common in the industry, are the most inexpensive on a dollars-per-photon basis, although fiber lasers can approach those prices depending on power range.

Expanding on the conversation about pico- and femtosecond lasers, Bengtsson detailed how ultrashort-pulse processing produces extraordinarily clean work thanks to diminished heat-affected zones. For example, picosecond lasers can drill crisp holes in 300 ?m stainless steel in about five seconds, at a cost of about $ 0.014 per hole. But its not like ultrafast lasers are always better; they will be, typically, slightly slower in removing material. However, he noted rates can be increased by 10 to 14 times u

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