Direct diode laser systems for industrial processing have been launched at SPIE Photonics West, evidence of a push to develop diode laser technology for materials processing. The laser and photonics trade fair took place in San Francisco from 10-12 February.
Laser provider, JDSU, introduced turnkey 2kW and 4kW direct diode lasers systems at the show, which the company is positioning as a replacement for the less efficient CO2 laser in thick sheet metal cutting, welding and surface treatment. The Corelight ExC diode systems were designed by cutting machine manufacturer Amada and incorporate JDSU’s direct diode laser engine.
CO2 lasers have a high cost of ownership and low electrical to optical conversion efficiency compared to direct diode systems – electrical to optical conversion is around 15 per cent for CO2 lasers and can be up to 70 per cent for direct diode. In the past, diode lasers did not have a high enough beam quality for cutting metals, but now high brightness systems are being released for just such an application. The JDSU systems are targeted at cutting thicker metals, where fibre lasers wouldn’t be suitable.
According to industry analyst firm Strategies Unlimited, direct diode lasers are projected to represent $237 million in 2017, growing at a CAGR of 15.3 per cent from 2012 to 2017.
Professor Reinhart Poprawe, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, commented in an interview for Electro Optics: ‘Diode lasers replacing older, less efficient technology for cutting would have a huge impact; it’s a billion dollar market served almost solely by CO2 lasers because of the advantages of the wavelength and convenience of the systems. But the efficiency of CO2 systems is pretty poor, so this would be a fantastic jump if you have the right wavelengths and beam quality in diode lasers. This isn’t the case currently, but it would be a long-term relevant goal for laser technology for the future.’
Diode laser company, Laserline, was also exhibiting direct diode systems at the show, as was laser provider Coherent. Laserline has recently launched its LDF 4kW diode laser with beam converter, which, the company states, opens up new applications for diode laser technology such as remote welding and laser cutting.
Coherent was exhibiting high power direct diodes in its Highlight D series, which can generate 10kW of laser power. These systems are designed for heat treating and cladding of large metal parts used in industries like oil drilling and coal mining.
JDSU also introduced 2kW, 4kW, and 6kW fibre laser systems for high-speed sheet metal cutting, precision welding and other macro materials processing applications. Fibre lasers have the advantage of higher cutting speed than CO2 machines for working with thin metal sheets. IPG Photonics has consistently been posting strong financial reports for the last two years, largely because its fibre lasers are being adopted in materials processing. Some of this growth can be attributed to replacing CO2 systems with high-power fibre lasers.
The direct diode approach: Tom Eddershaw finds that high-power diode lasers are now available for industrial applications, while their lower-power equivalents are used to great effect in outdoor light shows