Industrial Lasers Innovation Reaches New Heights
19-03-2019 | By Nnamdi Anyadike
The use of lasers across a swathe of the manufacturing industry, as tools capable of delivering intense cutting or welding power with high precision, is increasing. Beginning in the early 1980s, the automotive industry was an early user of high power lasers. And today, almost every aspect of the manufacture of a modern vehicle, from the airbag, door lining and keys to welding the body shell, annealing door springs and marking tyres requires lasers.
Lasers are also widely used in the manufacture of semiconductors that require the high precision cutting of irregular shapes. In the packaging industry, lasers are used to provide ‘easy to open’ solutions. They are also used for marking numerical codes, barcodes, logos and symbols onto materials and quality control. Key players in the market include Coherent, IPG Photonics, TRUMPF GmbH + Co. KG, Lumentum, Novanta, Lumibird and MKS Instruments.
Coherent Inc’s ‘Intelligent’ Laser Series
Recent innovations include the first offering in February by the California based photonics manufacturer, Coherent Inc., in its new ‘Exact’ series of fine materials processing equipment. Coherent’s ‘ExactCut’ systems combine the latest generation of pulsed fibre laser sources (300 W/3 kW pulse peak), a high stability granite motion module, and a sophisticated human interface. The ‘intelligent and intuitive’ software simplifies short or prototype production runs and rapid changeovers. The ExactCut is designed for easy integration into high volume production, with a variety of interfaces for speciality tooling, rotary or linear stages, part handling robotics, and conveyor belts. It is marketed as a ready-to-use solution for applications such as medical devices, electronics, automotive, and horology.
Laserax Develops Automotive Laser
In March, the Quebec, Canada based laser system manufacturer, Laserax, announced the development of a complete line of laser markers. These enable direct part marking to help automotive manufacturers trace every product from early production steps to the assembly of the final products, and beyond. Its field-tested inline laser marking solutions have been designed for optimal robustness, performance, reliability, and safety. Eric Bourbeau, responsible for product standardisation at Laserax, commented: “Our customers will find value in these pre-packaged, highly adapted inline solutions. Dealing with only one specialised stakeholder beats having to deal with: the laser manufacturer; an integrator; installers; and laser safety compliance specialists.” The three laser marking machines developed by the company for use mainly in the automotive sector are the Open-Air Machine (OAM), the Rotary Table Machine (RTM) and the Rotary Table Workstation (RTW).
New TRUMPF Laser for UK Aerospace
Also in March, TWI Ltd one of the world's foremost independent research and technology organisations announced that it had ordered a TRUMPF TruLaser Cell 7040 five-axis machine with a disk laser and laser metal deposition (LMD) functionality from the German laser manufacturer, TRUMPF. The machine will be located at TWI’s Rotherham, UK facility on the Advanced Manufacturing Park, where it will be put to work on the Open Architecture Additive Manufacturing (OAAM) project. The OAAM programme plans to develop directed energy deposition (DED) additive manufacturing (AM) technologies that can be scaled up to accept multi-metre component sizes for the benefit of UK Aerospace.
Carl Hauser, Section Manager, Laser Additive Manufacturing at TWI said, “We’ve been running several LMD systems on both industrial robot manipulators and a TRUMPF DMD 505 gantry-type five-axis cell for the past 15 years. Although the TRUMPF machine still functions perfectly well, being part of the OAAM project allowed us to consider our options and specify a new high precision system to meet the growing needs of the aerospace industry and of TWI member companies. After an assessment, the decision was made to invest in a new large scale five-axis gantry facility for laser additive manufacturing.”
AMADA Laser Technology Boosts GHG
Meanwhile, the Slough, UK based Glenmore Hane Group (GHG) has taken advantage of investment in the latest automated AMADA laser-cutting and press-brake technologies to achieve an ever-stronger market position. The company recently took possession of an AMADA LCG-3015AJ fibre laser. This is now being put to work to cut 3x1.5m metal sheets with ±0.01mm positional repeatability at axis speeds of 170m/min. General Manager Mark Hall said, “For us, the fibre-laser advantage is reduction in the melt effect on coated surfaces and cut edges. The fibre laser beam ‘kerf’ is very clean and approximately 10 times smaller than with CO2 lasers. In addition, real-time measuring sensors detect the slightest undulation and make material tolerance adjustments to help ensure zero rejects. Investing in this machine was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”
A recent report suggests that the laser technology market will be worth $16.9 billion by 2024, up from $12.9 billion in 2018. This represents a CAGR of 4.65%. The highest growth region will be APAC, which has been ahead in terms of adoption of laser technology products and solutions compared to other regions. The region’s huge population, increasing R&D investments, and growing manufacturing and electronics sectors are all expected to drive the growth of the laser technology market. The highest demand for laser machine tools will come from the semiconductor, automotive, industrial, and telecommunications sectors.