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31 July 2017

In awe of bright light - laser developments continue

In awe of bright light In awe of bright light - laser developments continue
For those who can remember the ‘60s – yes, I know, if you can, you weren’t there – then the abiding memory of the laser beam from that time will be that of Sean Connery as James Bond about to be cut in two by Auric Goldfinger in the film of the same name. A dreadfully slow and weak beam it must have been, judged by the speed at which it moved. Not to mention how outsized the device was. Positivelly, well, ‘60s.

Now, you don’t have to be that old to have seen this, because there are plenty of reruns of that film, so there should be many of you who can recall that entertaining image and its accompanying line – “Do you expect me to talk?” etc.

According to Wikipedia, the first production laser cutting machine was used to drill holes in diamond dies, in 1965; it was pioneered by America’s Western Electric Engineering Research Center. Britain then develped laser-assisted oxygen jet cutting of metals in 1967, which was subsequently applied to cutting titanium for aerospace applications in the early ‘70s. At that time, Wikipedia says, CO2 lasers were not capable of cutting metal – sorry Goldfinger.

But later in that decade, Machinery said in its 75th anniversary issue in 1987 that “the laser [CO2] had ceased to be a machining solution looking for a problem, and under CNC was showing how it could cut steel sheet and plate at high speeds”. It was additionally being used to gauge parts while they were being turned on lathes, we observed.

During the ‘80s, the punch press came under increasing attack from CO2 laser profilers and today such machines take second place to laser profilers in sheet metal cutting. But it’s not the same laser technology. Fibre technology has robbed CO2 of its brief spell in the limelight. There are currently two main sorts of fibre laser for metalcutting – fibre-generated-fibre-delivered and disk-generated-fibre-delivered (for a brief period during the ‘80s, Nd:YAG fibre lasers appeared; today used in the medical arena).

This century saw fibre lasers first come to prominence in part marking, welding, cladding and additive manufacturing. After 2010, fibre lasers for cutting started their journey to prominence and in 2012, in our Centenary issue, they were pointed up as the challenger technology. But we wrote that, just as fibre lasers were ousting CO2, we had no idea whether something better would come along. Well now it has. Mazak is claiming a world first for its direct diode laser (DDL) profiling machine (DDL is a third type of fibre laser technology for metalcutting); it’s our cover story this issue (p10). But Trumpf continues to push boundaries in other ways with existing laser technology.

In tracking laser development and use since the 1960s, the capability and spread of the technology continues to amaze. Goldfinger would be jealous; Bond, perhaps not.

Andrew Allcock

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Supporting Information

Related Companies

Trumpf Ltd
Yamazaki Mazak UK Ltd

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