What a difference a year makes. In 2011, the Laser Institute of America unveiled its one-of-a-kind Lasers for Manufacturing Event (LME®) to an enormously enthusiastic response. The two-day gathering in the cradle of U.S. manufacturing proved a vital one-stop resource for engineers, job shops, automotive and aerospace specialists — anyone keen on adding the production power, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of laser systems to their processes.

Now LIA, the recognized authority in laser applications, safety and research since 1968, has fired up round two of LME in a big way — with an expanded educational program including new fundamentals courses, a pair of two-hour tutorials detailing the basics of welding and joining and ultrafast machining, and a companion two-day Laser Welding & Joining Workshop.

Another first on the show floor this year, will be the presence of working laser systems. Now, not only can attendees talk directly with a show floor full of experts knowledgeable in every aspect of laser-based manufacturing, they can witness first-hand what these systems can achieve. Add to that the return of the highly popular Laser Technology Showcase, where exhibitors can share insights into their approaches with laser technology, and the stage is set for another information-packed session.

LME, returning to the Renaissance® Convention Center Hotel in Schaumburg, IL, Oct. 23-24, is unique to the laser industry in that it focuses exclusively on providing an overview of every conceivable aspect of choosing lasers for manufacturing, creating production systems, operating them safely — and realizing a solid profit.

Unlike other shows, LME offers a concentrated experience “where you can walk through and go right from the people doing advanced research and development — companies like Fraunhofer and EWI — then see every ingredient you need to put a laser into manufacturing, including the robots, the chillers and the coordinate machines,” explains Bill Shiner, vice president of industrial market sales at IPG Photonics in Oxford, MA. “You can go through, and in a very short period of time, understand not only what you need, but get an opportunity to talk to people about applications and see what the equipment looks like.”

Not only does LME draw a technical audience, but it also attracts small company presidents, engineers who make buying decisions — industry players ready to take advantage of the bold leaps lasers can make in terms of cutting material usage, costs and time.

LME 2012 will feature an expanded educational program including tutorials.

GET UP TO SPEED
Among LME’s benefits is the ability to hear some of the top minds in the laser industry provide highly focused presentations on laser fundamentals.

Once again, LIA has slated recognized speakers to address key areas in the “101-level” basic courses covering the types of lasers used in manufacturing, laser system components and options, return on investment and laser safety. Besides these “101-level” courses, LIA has added three “102-level” courses to address the fundamentals of laser cutting, robotics and additive manufacturing.

In addition, four other experts will share up-to-the-minute insights into major applications and markets, requirements for the automotive industry, and the impact of lasers in manufacturing for the aerospace and plastics industries.

And after those sessions are completed, attendees can follow up on the exhibition floor at the “Ask a Laser Expert” booth manned by Rob Mueller of NuTech Engineering and a team of industry experts.

PROFIT WITH PHOTONICS
The momentum behind this lineup is the wealth of opportunities presenting themselves in a number of industries.

“The automotive industry is very, very hot — direct automotive as well as the tier 1 and tier 2 companies,” notes Shiner. “There’s a huge market developing that never existed. Worldwide, people are converting to high-strength steel. You can’t stamp it; you’ve got to use either plasma or laser. And lasers greatly outshine plasma machines in speed and quality.”

Add to that the fact that weight reduction of components — and hence final products — is a significant goal of today’s carmakers, who are employing lasers in the manufacture of seats, electric car batteries and other components. “People aren’t just replacing lasers to increase production,” Shiner says. “New material is making them make new capital investments. That benefits people who make beam-delivery equipment, motion equipment and robotics.”

In the meantime, aerospace “is in a buying mode because there’s a world shortage in hole-drilling capability, and they’re extremely interested in newer lasers as they expand production,” Shiner continues. “Aerospace hasn’t made a major investment, probably for a decade, in drilling and cutting machines.  But now they’re looking at these new lasers.” And for makers of medical devices, the ability of lasers to join plastics is a continuing boom.

NEXT-LEVEL INSTRUCTION
Taking the fundamentals track several steps farther, LIA has added two tutorials to the LME program to highlight the basics of ultrafast laser machining and the critical aspects of laser welding and joining. So vital is the latter topic to a diverse array of industries that a separate two-day workshop will run concurrently with LME 2012.

Chaired by Prof. Eckhard Beyer of Fraunhofer IWS, LIA’s Laser Welding & Joining Workshop will appeal to representatives from the aerospace, defense, automotive, energy and medical industries. The extensive agenda will give attendees a comprehensive look at current practices and future applications for cladding, brazing and different types of laser welding — conduction, penetration, hybrid and remote, as well as macro and micro applications.

Beyer and his team have assembled a schedule of 18 presentations by “industrial research experts to give a sound overview of laser basics and current developments,” he says. “End users with longstanding experience will present their solutions to the typical challenges of laser applications.”

While laser welding is relatively traditional process, newer and better lasers and systems are greatly advancing its possibilities.

“We still see a big impact of the tremendous rise in beam quality and energy efficiency,” Beyer claims. “Here the application fields are expanded in many ways: ultra-low distortions or the realization of new mixed-material joints like copper-aluminum using precisely shaped weld pools. Also, remote-beam applications are now standard; that was a field restricted to expensive high-brightness lasers just a few years ago. Furthermore, laser size reduction is a key development: Many lasers are now so small that machine integration is much simpler and can be done in a way not possible before.”

LME is the place to get new ideas and application questions answered by industry-leading companies.

Attendees will learn from the perspectives of large companies like GE, as well as integrators and research experts, according to Dr. Gunther Göbel, a special joining technologies expert with Fraunhofer IWS.

For example, “ESAB will give us insights into the impact of lasers in heavy industry and how it is changing this industry from essentially low-tech, high-craft operations to more high-tech, low-cost production,” Göbel notes.

Göbel and Jens Standfuss will address the welding of mixed materials using high brightness lasers — a vital application in the automotive industry.

“A very prominent example is still the powertrain industry,” Göbel explains. “This also includes off-highway drivetrain components. In this domain, the laser is a very important tool as it enables significant advances: higher productivity, higher efficiency, low heat input, low distortion, etc.”

New laser systems and processes will be on display during LME, including working lasers.

Attendees of LME will have exclusive access to expertise in a special two-hour tutorial on the basics of ultrafast laser machining taught by Prof. Reinhart Poprawe of Fraunhofer ILT, president of the Laser Institute of America, who is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of laser manufacturing. Having earned Aviation Week’s 2012 Innovation Challenge award for producing a vital multiblade compressor component far faster and more cheaply with lasers than with traditional milling, he is at the forefront of exploring the fast-improving technology. Groundbreaking achievements in the context of ultrashort laser processing at ILT in Aachen are world records in fs-lasers, industrial systems in the kW-class have been developed and are available in the market now via spin offs like EdgeWave or Amphos. The outstanding characteristics in terms of precision immediately are convincing.

“The development of ultrafast lasers on an industrial scale, with pulse durations of 100 femtoseconds to 10 picoseconds and powers up to the kilowatt class, has led to a new level of laser processing — with ultimate processing quality,” Poprawe explains.

Poprawe’s tutorial at LME will feature technical examples of the technology as well as a survey of fundamentals, the processes, systems, materials and applicable markets. The target audience of engineers and scientists from machine suppliers and end users will learn the advantages and potential of the technology.

“Manufacturers of ultrafast lasers and optical systems will learn about the requirements on system technology with respect to laser parameters and processing parameters,” Poprawe says. “Users of precision machining applications with accuracies in the range of 10 microns and below should attend to learn how this new technology could improve the performance of existing components by adding functions through laser-based surface functionalization or how ultrafast laser machining could lead to new high-precision products. Ablation rates of the order of 10 mm³/s have been demonstrated and shall be presented.”

Starting with the physical basics of ultrashort pulse interaction phenomena, the tutorial will survey a broad array of applications — tool and molding, automotive engine components, LED and OLED light-guiding systems, photovoltaics and energy storage, biomedical applications and general surface processing. In addition, various approaches for setting up ultrashort pulsed lasers will be addressed, as will system requirements for high-speed scanning and modulations systems.

LME: LIKE NO OTHER LASER EVENT
LME, being held once again in proximity to many of the top automakers and laser job shops in the U.S., is geared to be one-stop shopping for those either seeking to refine current laser systems and applications or assessing potential new ways to employ photonics in production.

“As many laser manufacturers and system builders are engaged in the workshop, this would be an ideal opportunity to get application-related questions answered and get new ideas on how to use lasers,”  Beyer notes. “We are going to unite many people from the laser community who were and are shaping the way the world of lasers is today. This will make it possible to address lasers from basics to high-end applications.”

At the inaugural LME in 2011, auto manufacturers were out in force.

“I had one guy asking about a battery welding application (and) another guy asking about glass processing; they do automotive glass mirrors and asked about laser scribing,” Mueller recalls from manning the expert booth in the exhibit hall. “There are enough lasers in automotive now that they’re starting to look around and go, ‘OK, where else can I do it?’ Management is comfortable to a certain extent with existing applications; now we can look around a bit farther. ”

One of those auto-industry attendees was Octavio Islas, an automotive product engineer with Magna/Cosma in Mexico. For him, LME is “a good opportunity for everybody to learn about all the technologies in the same place. You can get a lot of information from all the suppliers. If you have any specific requirement, you have people with a lot of knowledge and experience, and they can tell you about your application and all the details.”

For attendees and exhibitors alike, LME creates a powerful networking environment.

“We’re seeing new blood at this exhibition,” asserts Shiner, who had a significant role in crafting the inaugural LME and chairs the committee which oversees LME. “I’m seeing people I didn’t even know.”

The thing to remember in the laser processing arena, he counsels, is that, “Almost any machine for production is a custom design; you have to listen to the customer.”  With LME, the industry now has the perfect venue for those conversations to take place.