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Ultrafast systems big growth area, say panel at Lasys

Ultrashort pulse (USP) lasers and micromachining was one of the areas highlighted by a panel of laser experts at Lasys as being one of the more dynamic markets in the field of laser materials processing.

Dr Mario Ledig, vice president at Jenoptik Laser, said today during the panel discussion at the trade fair in Stuttgart that micromachining applications with femtosecond lasers have increased markedly over the last two years.

However, Wolfgang Schulz, head of the modelling and simulation department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT), added that much more work was needed on the diagnostics of the beam for USP lasers. He said that most of the diagnostic methods for USP lasers are in the femtosecond regime, but that the more interesting parameters are surrounding how picosecond laser pulses interact with material.

Fraunhofer ILT is researching new ways to analyse the beam properties for USP lasers to get a better understanding of the physics involved. Specifically, the researchers are investigating how the process of ablation with ultrafast lasers works in glass. He said: 'Today, we only have a rough idea of the beam diagnostics,' commenting that the temporal resolution for such beam analysis is on the order of seconds, too slow for such fast processes.

As head of modelling and simulation at Fraunhofer ILT, Schulz also spoke about trying to convince integrators of laser machines to make more use of computer simulation in the integration process. He said that large companies were doing this as part of developing their manufacturing plants, and that integrators should follow this example.

Georg Hofner, CEO of Scanlab, noted that it wasn't changes in the technology on display at the show that has been most pronounced over the last two years, but rather changes in the markets for laser processing. He said the markets were now more cyclical and that, in particular, there were now high price pressures from the Asian markets.

One market that Toni Koszykowski, CEO of Laser SOS, urged laser companies to investigate was the beauty and aesthetics arena, which he said was 20 times the size of the industrial laser market and that the price margins are much higher. Laser SOS also supplies laser equipment to India for diamond cutting, and Koszykowski commented that there is huge potential in this area. He said that, for instance, diamond processing companies would be extremely interested in any laser solution that would save 5 per cent of diamond material lost during the cutting process.

Fibre lasers were also touched upon during the discussion, with Dr Ledig commenting that there has been a big price drop in fibre lasers of 10 per cent or more, which is making the technology more accessible to maunfacturers. Additive manufacturing was also noted by Hofner as being a laser processing area for the future.

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