Smoothing the Wave for High-Power Lasers

For years, laser manufacturers have promised the ability to produce very high-power, cost-effective lasers that are stable outside of a laboratory environment. Recent requirements in aerospace and defense applications, such as LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), IR countermeasures, and laser targeting, are now calling on these manufacturers to deliver.

altAlthough some companies have stepped up to the challenge and successfully developed these devices, pushing the current limits of manufacturing and design does not come without a price. Generally, beam quality is sacrificed for higher output, either because multiple laser cavities are being used or because many modes are generated within a single cavity. Though occasionally the output will combine to form a beam that appears Gaussian-like in profile, more often than not these lasers have a structure that is neither Gaussian nor the frequently desired Top-Hat intensity profile. In addition, these intensity profiles often vary during operation.

altIf the structure of the output beam intensity profile remains stable, and if the application only needs one particular profile at a limited projection range, customized refractive or diffractive beam-shaping solutions can provide high-quality and high-efficiency results. Essentially, beam shaping is the process of remapping the output angle for sections of the beam in such a way that the energy will overlap favorably at a specific distance. From Figure 1 (top), it is apparent that the distribution of energy is dependent upon the propagation length of the beam. As the projection length varies from that of the intended design, the device no longer functions properly. However, any variation in laser-to-laser output may require a unique design for each system. Furthermore, if the structure changes over time or during operation, these beam-shaping solutions may no longer provide adequate homogenization or profile redistribution.

altFortunately, a solution exists that is much less dependent on the actual structure of the beam profile and more dependent on the nature of the structure. The solution comes in the form of diffractive diffusers and homogenizers that can produce very precise and controlled outputs, which change little from laser to laser. Basically, diffractive diffusers function by forming multiple replications of the input beam that overlap and are propagated forward in an array of defined angles to create a specific output geometry (Figure 1 bottom).

White Papers

Automated Inspection Lowers Solar Cell Costs
Sponsored by Teledyne DALSA
Inclinometers for Motion Control
Sponsored by Fraba Posital
Metal Injection Molding Turns the Volume Up, and Down
Sponsored by Proto Labs
The Aerospace Industry Takes a Fresh Look at Its Wire Harness Design Approach
Sponsored by Mentor Graphics
The Benefits of Integrated Video Management
Sponsored by Curtiss Wright
SpaceClaim in Manufacturing
Sponsored by SpaceClaim

White Papers Sponsored By: