British and German laser specialists joined forces to develop a new standard in ultra-compact high-energy laser systems capable of printing and cutting even the trickiest materials like glass and plastics. Their timing could not have been better as the laser printing market took off on the back of a consumer manufacturing boom.
A constant pipeline of new, increasingly complex consumer electronics and devices – and the innovative techniques to manufacture them – has been credited for a growth spurt in the laser industry. Making a smartphone, for example, involves myriad laser-based processes, such as engraving parts, grooving circuit boards, and glass-cutting.
“It should come as no surprise that 2017 was a great year for the laser industry,” according to LaserFocusWorld’s annual laser review and forecast. Global laser revenue grew by 18.1 % compared with 2016. This was largely driven by the materials processing sector, where year-on-year laser revenues jumped more than 26 % (fibre lasers alone grew by a “staggering” 34 %, the analysts report. But they caution that more moderate growth is expected for 2018 and beyond “as capital equipment spending cools for certain materials processing laser systems”.
Compact, high-energy lasers with ultra-compact laser heads, such as those developed in the Eurostars HYLASE project, are tailor-made for the printing, etching and cutting of complex surfaces like glass and thin-films, according to the management team behind the project from Fianium in the UK and neoLASE in Germany.
HYLASE’s work in this cutting-edge field drew the attention of major laser manufacturers looking to reinforce their expertise in ultra-short pulse fibre laser systems and amplifiers which can be quickly realised as compact, reliable products suitable for real-life applications.
Apart from their excellent processing speed and accuracy, which boosts output and minimises heat build-up in the affected zone, the HYLASE technology demonstrated superior beam quality at all repetition rates. The solutions proved to be reliable as well as easy to integrate and maintain. This work was reinforced thanks to neoLASE’s background in durable, modular lasers and amplifiers.
neoLASE has established a reputation for producing fast and highly focused pico- and femtosecond lasers (one trillionth and one quadrillionth of a second respectively). For example, its neoMOS ultra-compact laser head is reported to have the smallest footprint currently available, which makes integrating it into new and existing industrial and scientific applications much easier, from gravitational wave detection to micro-machining jobs, such as those demonstrated in HYLASE.
Recently, the company also announced that its laser amplifiers have been installed in the European X-Ray Free-Electron Laser. XFEL, as it is known, produces x-ray flashes with such intensity (a billion times higher than commercial sources) that they can peer into the atomic detail of cells or chemical reactions, providing a “three-dimensional view into the nano-cosmos or the … activities inside planets”, according to neoLASE.
All of this capability was brought to the fore during HYLASE’s testing work, which was really made possible thanks to EUREKA backing, the team concludes.