Lasers are not just for Bond Villains and Sci-fi weapons, they are an essential part of modern engineering. In this article I want to take a look at lasers systems and what they are used for in modern manufacturing.
What is a laser?
First up, a brief lesson on what exactly a laser is. We have all heard the word laser, but did you know it is actually an acronym for ‘Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation’. The full name gives a clue as to what a laser is. A laser is a beam of light that has been amplified and focused to a fine point.
The first laser was built in 1960, in a laboratory in California. Initially it was proposed as a technology for use with Radar and spectrometry, although since its invention the laser has found use across the entire of spectrum of technology, from manufacturing through to information transmission.
A common industrial application of lasers is for use in laser marking. This is where a laser is used to mark a material in a precise and durable way. This can be used for printing serial numbers on manufactured parts that undergo strains that would remove other forms of printing. More recently, this method has been used simply for its accuracy and aesthetic quality of very clean, precise finished.
There a wide range of different ways the marking can be achieved, although the most common is Laser engraving. This is the process of using a laser to remove and a small amount of the material, leaving an engraved mark. This approach can be seen in the robust laser systems from Needham Laser, as well as in larger industrial machines.
Perhaps the second most common application of laser systems in manufacturing is to use the lasers to cut materials. Because a laser is a focussed beam of light, the cuts these systems make are very precise with a very high tolerance. This makes laser cutting the perfect tool for high precision engineering tasks, where measurements need to be exact.
Although once the preserve of high end manufacturers with multi-million dollar budgets, the rapid pace of advancement in laser technology has meant that now laser cutting is an affordable technique for all scales of manufacturer. In fact, these days you can even get desktop laser cutters for use in hobby projects at home.
So far, we’ve only looked at using lasers to remove or cut material. However, they can just as readily be used to fuse materials together. This is called laser welding, and as with other laser applications it is an incredibly precise tool. In fact, in many industries laser welding is now the preferred standard due to its high level of accuracy and durability. Also, laser welders can follow very complex patterns, allowing for joins that would be impossible to achieve using more conventional welding methods.
Laser technology is one of the great advances of modern science, and an area that is still rife with innovation today. The new wave of affordable, high quality laser products has meant that these benefits can be enjoyed by smaller manufacturers than was previously possible, fueling a whole new wave of adoption of laser technology.