Performance boost for ultrashort pulse lasers
As the performance of ultrashort pulse (USP) lasers increases, their areas of application also grow. USP technology is poised to make the leap into industrial macro-materials processing.
A clear trend emerged at the 5th USP Workshop in Aachen: After becoming established in science and micro-materials processing, USP laser technology is ready to make the transition to industrial processing of macroscopic components. This is driven by high increases in the power of the radiation sources: The first USP lasers with several hundred watts and some with more than one kilowatt (kW) power are available.
For example, EdgeWave has pico and femtosecond lasers with up to 600 watts average power. TRUMPF subsidiary AMPHOS Lasersystems has lasers in the power range to 1000 watts. And Active Fiber Systems, a spin-off from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena, markets femtosecond lasers up to 1.5 kW. The Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Advanced Photon Sources also has plans to increase power to the multi kilowatt range. The participating institutes, ILT and IOF, are already reporting world records. For instance, a group from the IOF in Jena has implemented a fiber laser system with 3.5 kW average output power. And ILT scientists in Aachen have presented an Yb:InnoSlab laser with 500 W average power at 30 femtosecond pulse width. But the cluster has much higher targets: average power in the 10-kW range. To achieve this, it has a budget of EUR 10 million for the next three years.
Processing ceramics and fiber-reinforced plastics
If industrial-suited USP lasers are able to achieve these power ranges, there would be no barriers whatsoever with regard to their use in a wide range of industrial applications. For example, to cut ultra-hard ceramics or process fiber-reinforced plastics. Generally, the power of current USP lasers in the 100 W class is not sufficient for these processes.
But USP laser manufacturers such as Amphos, Active Fiber, EdgeWave, and Amplitude Systemes, Spectra-Physics and TRUMPF, together with experts for scan solutions such as Next Scan Technology bvba and SCANLAB are aiming to produce lasers suitable for industrial macro processing. Multi-beam concepts are a promising approach in which the high-energy laser pulses are split into dozens or even hundreds of parallel guided individual pulses to process large surface areas more effectively. In view of the dynamics behind this development, the workshop organizers are convinced of the industrial potential: “With the availability of laser sources in the multi-kilowatt range, the main advantage of USP technology – the extremely high degree of precision in processing – will result in these lasers gaining in popularity.”