Laser technology has undoubtedly become one of the most precise and powerful cutting, marking and machining tools available to manufacturers in recent times. The inherent flexibility of laser systems as a non-contact multi-process technology, capable of working with a vast range of materials, will ensure that laser technology will remain at the forefront of tomorrow’s digital manufacturing processes.
Although a highly flexible technology in itself, many industrial laser systems are designed and optimized to fulfil a specific process, delivering high performance within a narrow application range. Others claim multiple capabilities, but deliver lower overall performance levels, since they are not particularly suited to, or optimized for, any one task.
In contrast, the systematic approach taken by Universal Laser has always been to deliver high levels of quality, accuracy and repeatability across the broadest range of material types, with no compromise in performance. This inherent flexibility ensures that users are able to configure and fine-tune their laser system for the broadest range of tasks.
These characteristics are essential attributes for the growing number of instances where flexibility is becoming the key word, as perhaps batch sizes become smaller, the range of materials to be processed expands, or where the laser system will be required to perform more than one process. This is definitely a growing trend within several industrial sectors where OEMs are placing greater demands for flexibility on their supply chain partners. Also, for those working within the research & development, product development and prototyping environments, it is essential that they have the flexibility to configure and, if required, re-configure their laser system to enable the development of a production ready process.
In addition, there are those who may be seeking to introduce laser technology for the first time. For them it is essential that the system they choose has the capability to meet not only their current needs, but have the capability to be easily and quickly reconfigured to accommodate future requirements. The rapidly changing nature of manufacturing tasks require a laser solution that can be specified and configured to address the unique criteria required for any given application, if users are to achieve the best results.
A package that allows the user the ability to quickly change over production to new materials, processes or part designs will be the optimum solution for many. It’s essential that companies purchasing manufacturing equipment within today’s dynamic business environment are able to maximize the return on their investment. This is true regardless of whether the system is to be employed in a prototype or R&D environment, or whether it is to be used as a production tool. In order to achieve this objective, the manufacturing tools, including laser technology, must be adaptable to changing needs as their business evolves.
These days, users are able to select from a comprehensive range of laser system platforms which can be configured with a variety of options and patented technologies. The platforms can be equipped with fiber and CO2 laser sources for wide material compatibility, interchangeable optical configurations for laser beam control, choices on cutting/vacuum tables to suit different applications, and much more.
Universal Laser Systems, for example, offers Rapid Reconfiguration™, a patented technology that allows users to switch laser sources to match their changing requirements, without the need for tools or any specialist training. Depending on platform model, there are options on laser wavelength (CO2 10.6μm, CO2 9.3μm, or fiber 1.06μm), in addition to a choice of laser power from 10W to 500W – when combining dual 250W laser sources.
There is also the capability in certain platforms for dual or multiple laser sources. At its core, Rapid Reconfiguration™ allows users to easily install and reinstall any ULS laser source onto any ULS laser system. Because certain wavelengths and peak power levels are ideal for certain materials and applications, this feature allows for increased flexibility in laser processing.
The company’s newest platform, the ULTRA 9, is able to accommodate up to three laser sources, comprised of two interchangeable CO2 lasers and one fiber laser. When the platform is configured with three lasers, users can take advantage of MultiWave Hybrid™ technology enabling up to three wavelengths – 9.3μm, 10.6μm, and 1.06μm – to be simultaneously combined into a single coaxial beam. Each spectral component of the beam is independently controlled and can be modulated in real time.
The system, in this configuration, is ideally suited for use with multi-layered composite materials. If required, each laser can also be used independently for components that may require multiple consecutive processes using different wavelengths. The capability for such diversity in configuration is matched by the ease with which laser sources can be interchanged, a valuable asset for those using the laser systems in a demanding production environment.
Additional flexibility can be achieved through the use of a patented Class 4 Conversion Module, which is available as an option. This makes it possible for the user to quickly and easily convert a laser system between fully enclosed Class 1 operation, and open Class 4 operation. This allows the user to place oversized objects in the laser system for laser material processing, or pass continuous objects such as rolls of material or conveyor systems through the laser system. In the standard Class 1 configuration, work envelopes range from 406 mm × 305 mm × 102 mm to 1219 mm × 610 mm × 305 mm, offering the capability to process a wide range of component sizes.
Bolstering the core technology is the company’s materials library, widely recognized as a premier source for information on laser material processing for cutting, marking and machining. This comprehensive and continually evolving database provides users with details on the recommended configuration for their laser system to process a specific material and obtain the optimum results.
These technologies and innovations provide a competitive advantage for manufacturing companies of all sizes, who are seeking to keep pace with the dynamic nature of today’s business environment by future proofing manufacturing and production processes. The continual commitment to improving laser technology allows users to benefit from laser systems that deliver high performance for the broadest range of material applications.
This article was written by David Richter, Engineering Product Manager, Universal Laser Systems, Inc. (Vienna, Austria). For more information, contact Mr. Richter at