The vanguard for information on laser technology

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We speak to the LIA's executive director, Dr Nathanial Quick, about topics ranging from his early experiences with the organisation to the challenges still hindering the adoption of laser materials processing in industry

Dr Quick was appointed executive director of LIA in October 2017, following the retirement of Peter Baker, who had held the position since is appointment at the 5th ICALEO in 1988.

Quick holds several degrees in materials science and engineering from Cornell University, including a Doctor of Philosophy, which he received in 1976.

Following his education, Quick held a position as the vice president of Washburn Wire Products, where he focused on quality control and laboratory operations. Eventually, Quick co-founded AT&T Coatings, an entrepreneurial spin-off with a focus on technological applications.

Between 1985 and 1989, Quick was the CEO and chief scientist for his own company, Applications Technology of Indiana, where he invented and developed clad-coat micro-composited powders for powdered metal and conductive polymer electronic applications. From 1990 to 2002, Quick filled leadership positions within several companies that concentrated on materials processing and research development. For several years he continued to hone his skills as a negotiator and a project developer before founding his self-financed company, AppliCote Associates, in 2003.

LSE: Thank you very much for joining us today Dr Quick! Perhaps we could start by learning when you first came into contact with LIA, and how you think organisation has developed over the years since then?

NQ: While I was in college, I was introduced to the new field of material science and engineering, with a focus on materials processing and synthesis. I was excited about the opportunity to create new materials and designs for new applications. I was exposed particularly to heat treatment technologies, including induction heating, and migrated to electron beam processing to create new materials properties. During this period, I saw that laser materials processing was highlighted more frequently in journals and began to explore this technology in more depth. It was here that I was first exposed to LIA’s Journal of Laser Applications.

In the late 1980’s, I was involved with developing a direct write laser technology for the rapid prototyping of keypads and circuit boards at a Bell Labs satellite facility. A subcontractor was used in this R&D effort to process lab samples and prototypes necessary to speed the entry of new telephony technologies. This subcontractor, Laser Fare, was a corporate member of LIA. The CEO of Laser Fare gave us a foundation for understanding the exchanges between technology development and professional networking, something I am excited to see become an integral part of the new LIA. During this period, LIA promoted laser rapid prototyping and new laser techniques and applications for materials processing through publications, which as a materials scientist/engineer were my areas of interest – and still are. Around the same time, after setting up my own company, I was invited to participate in an ASM International symposium to present work on using laser energy to selectively convert wide bandgap materials, (advanced semiconductors and ceramics) into either a conductor, semiconductor, or insulator. The session chair, Dr Aravinda Kar, was a member of LIA and encouraged me to become a member also. To this day, we still work closely together on events such as ICALEO.

Since my first encounter, LIA has expanded delivery of value to the general laser materials processing community, including laser systems developers and users, by developing and sharing knowledge and know-how, catalysing invention and innovation, facilitating networking/relationships and facilitating professional development. LIA is dedicated to continuous improvement in value delivery.

LSE: Why is the presence and growth of industry organisations such as LIA important for the progression of laser materials processing and its application in different industries worldwide?

NQ: As the hub for thought leaders and innovators in laser applications and safety to exchange ideas, we are able to serve as the vanguard for disseminating information on cutting-edge laser-materials processing technologies and provide forums for exploring their applications. Our conferences, workshops, and media content allow a preliminary review and analysis of these new technologies and applications by industry experts.

Organisations like ours provide a unique opportunity for users, researchers, manufacturers, and safety professionals from across the globe to interface about the laser topics that affect them all; together they identify industry challenges, solve industry problems, and inspire one another with their innovative ideas. In addition to supporting the professional community, we promote research through our peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Laser Applications, and we promote the safe use of lasers through education and standards development activities. These capabilities make LIA relevant to the progression of laser materials processing and its applications.

LSE: As someone whose own company has benefited greatly from having LIA available as a knowledge-base for laser materials processing, what would be your advice to others also looking to use the LIA as a resource to further develop their own business/career?

NQ: The first thing to do is to become a member of LIA. This membership opens opportunities to network with other members who have resources that assist in their projects. The LIA also provides resources through its network to introduce new users to laser processing data, technologies and facilities so they can quickly undertake experiments and testing to evaluate the appropriateness of laser technology for their application.

We also encourage our members to participate in ICALEO, which can provide an opportunity for them to present and promote their ideas to an international audience. Not only can this lead to the receiving of valuable feedback that helps members develop their ideas, but it can also ease the challenge of networking by providing topics for conversation.

Dr Quick (left) and former LIA executive director, Peter Baker (right) observe a presentation at ICALEO 2010. Quick was the president of LIA at the time. (Image: LIA)

Another good foundation for developing your career in the laser industry is to take some basic courses in optics and photonics, and to get involved in a materials science programme. There are programmes offered through the entities associated with Laser-Tec – an association of community and state colleges, universities, high schools, technical centers, trade associations, and laser and fibre optic companies – that can help build this foundation. One of our members and consistent contributors to our newsletter, Dr Chrysanthos Panayiotou, is the executive director of Laser-Tec.

LSE: With LIA recently changing its full name from 'The Laser Institute of America' to 'The Laser Institute', does the organisation look to increase its presence and interaction with the international laser community going forwards?

NQ: LIA currently has an extended international base; still, we noticed last year that there was some confusion over the geographical interests of LIA. Several visitors from Asia interpreted our banner, ‘Laser Institute of America’, to indicate that North America was our only focus. The debate to make the change has been ongoing for quite some time. Given the continued expansion in laser materials processing and manufacturing worldwide, we finally made the change. We have retained all trademarks, and will continue to go by ‘LIA’; however, moving forward, we are ‘The Laser Institute’.

LSE: With laser safety training and education being an important part of LIA’s services, is the organisation satisfied with the amount of educational/training resources currently available elsewhere for laser users?

NQ: There are definitely not enough educational/training resources that are focused on laser processing of materials and laser safety. Efforts have been underway to involve two-year colleges as a starting point, such as with the work of Laser-Tec here in the southeastern United States. I think an important thing is to bridge the gap between education and industry to define a curriculum that is supported by industry needs and where the industry is heading.

Developing future laser processing professionals requires exposing students to the profession. Videos, site visits, and activity with STEM programmes provide a good path for student exposure to laser processing applications, laser equipment and required skills so they better understand employment opportunities in the industry.

Dr Nat Quick, second from the right, with Charles H. Townes, Peter Baker and LIA’s board of directors at ICALEO 2010. (Image: LIA)

Our ICALEO 2019 conference has been redesigned to better bridge the communication gap between academia and industry. This year, we are introducing industry-specific foci, and are organising technical presentations from five tracks (laser additive manufacturing, macro laser processing, micro laser processing, nano laser processing and battery systems/energy conversion) that provide technical content directed to these industries. Four industrial sectors; aerospace, biotech, microelectronics and automotive will be highlighted this year, and each will have a dedicated trade show. The intent is to be more user-focused. We are also introducing new business features such as market driver solutions forums and panel discussions that encourage dialogue between industrial end-users and academia to address and solve core problems that require collaboration between industry and research. These interactions expose students and academia to the needs of industry and expose industry to the capabilities of academic research institutions.

An important aspect of laser materials processing is of course safety – one of the deterrents to the incorporation of laser technology into industry is a concern for safe use. With regard to laser safety training, we are creating more modern and accessible courses and expanding to new geographical locations.

LSE: And finally, what challenges are still hindering the adoption/development of laser materials processing worldwide? Is there anything that organisations such as the LIA and their members can do to help address these challenges?

NQ: The general materials processing community is still not aware of the potential of laser materials processing and the new applications that are emerging. As awareness of laser applications increases, the technology will be implemented. In today’s world, people are starting to recognise that laser technology integrates well with Industry 4.0 digitalisation objectives. The laser market is anticipated to grow as cutting-edge applications grow. We must target and align with the media outlets that service specific industries. Focused workshops tailored to specific industries are also a good tool for the transfer of the technology.

We can do more to promote an interest in laser technology, starting with young minds. Scientists and industry professionals can help promote laser materials processing by volunteering at local schools to teach children about the possible professions they can aspire to, ideally using multi-media. When I was young, the push for STEM was focused on the space programme, and I’d see Wernher von Braun on Disney talking about NASA. We recently began an initiative with Dr Larry Dosser, senior technical fellow of Universal Technology Corporation, to develop informational videos that can be shared in high schools to help foster an interest in laser technology. When these videos are complete, they will be available to LIA members as a tool for engaging students during presentations or teach-ins. Using multi-media and hands-on learning to help young students understand abstract concepts will make this information more accessible to the next generation.

LSE: Many thanks again for your time today Dr Quick!


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