Fiber Lasers, Part 1 | Automation Opportunities

Image depicting laser beam cutting - an output similar to powerful non-contact fiber laser systems

Precision manufacturing of complex parts requires sophistication and accuracy. Fiber lasers have made micro-processing such as fine cutting, drilling, or marking for traceability more accurate and repeatable than ever. Thankfully, the latest industrial fiber lasers are getting smaller, more powerful, and easier to afford, even for custom R&D or proof-of-concept cells.

In Part 1 of this series on Fiber Laser Integration, we explore fiber laser technology, applications, and opportunities for enhancing precision manufacturing.

Understanding Fiber Lasers & Amplification with Rare-Earth Elements

What is a fiber laser?

What exactly is a “fiber laser?” A more explicit name provides more insight: “fiber optic laser.” Remarkably, energy amplification occurs within a single, ultra-compact fiber optic cable. The cable is typically under 200 micrometers in diameter – not much wider than a human hair. Yet this tiny fiber strand can deliver laser output powers ranging from watts to kilowatts. In fact, the small size allows efficient heat dissipation for high-power operation. 

How do rare-earth elements play a role?

Laser light is generated within a fiber optic cable which is infused (“doped”) with rare-earth elements such as ytterbium, erbium, or neodymium. So, the fiber acts as a gain medium where the laser light is produced and amplified.

The doped fiber optic cable functions as an exceptionally compact laser cavity. It guides and amplifies the beam while minimizing losses. Compared to traditional lasers, fiber lasers offer superior electrical-to-optical efficiency. They can deliver significant energy savings. 

Why are fiber lasers useful for manufacturing?

Fiber lasers have several characteristics that make them ideal for automated material processing:

  • High Beam Quality: The design of the fiber allows for a high-quality laser beam, which is very effective for precise cutting, welding, and marking applications.
  • Efficient Operation: Fiber lasers are known for their efficiency and compact size compared to other types of lasers. The fibers themselves provide a large surface area for cooling, which helps in handling higher power levels more efficiently.
  • Durability: Fiber lasers are robust and less prone to alignment issues than other types of lasers, making them more reliable and easier to maintain.

Fiber lasers are small but powerful technologies to improve manufacturing quality. They operate efficiently and deliver highly precise micro-processing. Additionally, laser developers are making it easier than ever to integrate compact systems into automated lines.

Fiber Laser Applications, From Precision Ablation and Marking Techniques to Ultra-Fine Cutting and Drilling

Because lasers enable automated micro-processing of manufactured materials, they are best suited for applications that require absolute positioning, dimensional control, and high accuracy with repeatability. Some of the most common applications for lasers include:

  • Metal Cutting: Lasers excel at cutting reflective metals like aluminum, brass, copper, steel, and stainless steel with high accuracy and speed. This makes them ideal for industries like automotive, aerospace, and manufacturing that need to cut thin to moderately thick metal components.
  • Marking and Engraving: Fiber lasers can permanently mark high-contrast patterns, text, or graphics onto metals and some plastics with excellent precision. This marking capability is essential for traceability, branding, and compliance across industries from medical devices to electronics.
  • Micro Materials Processing: Exceptional beam quality allows fiber lasers to perform micro-scale cutting, drilling, or other ultra-precise processing on a wide spectrum of materials and finishes.
  • Welding: A focused, high-energy beam allows lasers to produce strong, consistent welds, such as spot welding and seam welding tasks in automated production lines.
  • Cleaning and Surface Treatment: Lasers can remove rust, paint, coatings, or contaminants from metal surfaces with high precision while avoiding damage to the underlying material.

Short & Ultrashort Pulse Lasers for High Precision Micro-Processing

Emerging industries like HardTech, MedTech, and SpaceTech require faster development with each generational leap in technology. For manufacturing at the speed of innovation, selecting a laser to execute tasks at ever-shrinking dimensions and scales is challenging.

This is where short and ultrashort pulse lasers come into play. These specialized lasers generate ultrafast pulses measured in pico- or femtoseconds, with extremely high peak powers. By controlling the properties of ultrafast laser pulses, micro-processing with nanometer resolutions is achievable.

  • Short pulse lasers, with pulse durations from a few to tens of picoseconds, enable “cold” micro-processing of materials. This technique ensures minimal thermal effects for the manufacturing of semiconductors, optical devices, and ceramics.
  • Ultrashort pulse lasers amplify performance even further, with pulse widths under a picosecond. At femtosecond scales, the energy transfer from the laser to the material occurs through highly nonlinear interactions. The laser pulses are so brief and intense that they cause a strong, localized interaction before heat can diffuse to the surrounding material. This results in precise ablation or modification with minimal thermal damage to the surrounding area.

This level of laser precision is critical for applications like fabricating MEMS, where components are often microscopic, and for medical stent cutting, which requires immaculate edges and fine details for biocompatibility.

EXPLORE

Learn more about ultrashort pulse marking lasers with leading technology developer, TRUMPF, and their TruPulse nano lasers.

Image courtesy of TRUMPF | TruMicro Mark Laser
Image and resource courtesy of TRUMPF

Ready to boost precision manufacturing with fiber laser technology?

Is your manufacturing line ready for a fiber laser solution? Are you eager to boost the precision of your material processing stages? Or perhaps you require customization that adds laser marking for traceability into part manufacturing? 

Connect with us to find out how we can help you integrate this technology to propel your automated manufacturing line. Let’s talk!

Categories

Services

Client Industries

Tech Talk Series