Beaming up quality with laser technology

  • 16-Nov-2008 05:25 EST
GSI Fixed robot.jpg
GSI is lead partner in the High Efficiency Laser Processing Systems project to develop fiber-coupled diode laser sources with beam qualities of enhanced efficiency.

Laser processing is an important part of automotive manufacturing, and a new collaborative project is under way between GSI Group’s Laser Division, the LPA (Laser and Photonics Applications) Group at Heriot-Watt University, PowerPhotonic Ltd., and Cranfield University in the U.K. to take the technology to new levels of efficiency. Called HELPSYS (high-efficiency laser-processing systems), the project has received investment from the U.K. Technology Strategy Board.

As lead partner for the work, GSI’s Laser Division, which is based in Rugby, England, is aiming to develop fiber-coupled diode laser sources to bring a significant increase in the efficiency of current laser-based welding processes to the point where they are more efficient than even conventional MIG or other techniques.

Dr. Mark Greenwood, GSI Technical Director, said: "Diode system beam quality has so far limited the accessible market to niche applications, such as soldering, plastic welding, hardening, and cladding. The significant beam quality improvements proposed by this project would enable diode laser systems to enter many of the markets dominated by incumbent technologies, such as high-power CO2 and lamp-pumped Nd:YAG lasers."

Laser processing, specifically cutting and welding, is increasingly widely used across the automotive industry. The technology developed by the HELPSYS project will be particularly relevant to high-power applications in intensive production environments. Automotive manufacturing would be a salient area for this, requiring significant quantities of high-quality welds and large volumes.

To receive the investment, awarded under the Technology Strategy Board’s collaborative research and development program, the project partners must prove the U.K.’s capacity to develop and exploit the technology. It also must describe the size of the market opportunity and the sustainability of the proposed technology.

"We are confident that this project will directly benefit the laser and industrial processing industry, by developing new technologies for high power diode lasers and their use in new high-efficiency welding processes, increasing the overall efficiency and achieving challenging cost and volume manufacturing goals," Greenwood said.

GSI stated that in line with its tradition of utilizing its applications expertise to further laser technology innovation, the project will exploit this and the key technologies held by the project partners to achieve new benchmarks in the development of industrial lasers.

For example, the project incorporates plans for: base modules that would integrate new capabilities at the diode laser chip level; innovative mounting and cooling configurations including new multilayer planar ceramic technology; utilization of new beam-correction technology; and novel multibeam to optical fiber coupling techniques.

The LPA Group at Heriot-Watt University is a leader in the physics and engineering of new technology laser devices with a high profile for more than 20 years. It is led by Professor Howard Baker, who has particular expertise in high power diode laser sources for industrial applications. Dr. Roy McBride of PowerPhotonic will bring to the project the company’s capabilities in micro-optic fabrication and diode laser characterization. Professor Stewart Williams will head the team at the Welding Engineering Research Center at Cranfield University, a leading U.K. academic research group studying welding processes. Cranfield has an 8-kW fiber laser facility.

GSI Group Laser Division manufactures industrial laser sources for use in a variety of materials-processing applications and for three decades has supplied precision technology to the automotive, electronics, and semiconductor industries. The portfolio of brands offered by GSI includes JK, Lumonics, and Spectron. The Laser Division is headquartered in the U.K., with additional manufacturing facilities in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, China.

The U.K. Technology Strategy Board is a business-led executive non-departmental public body established by the British government. Its role is to promote and support research into, and development and exploitation of, technology and innovation for the benefit of U.K. business.

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