By Geoff Giordano
In its third year, the Laser Institute of America’s Lasers for Manufacturing Event® (LME®) has been established as an indispensable locus of advanced photonics knowledge, with industry experts, seasoned practitioners and enthusiastic entrants to the field converging to share insights into the 21st century production revolution.
The rubber hits the road Sept. 11-12 at the Schaumburg Convention Center just outside Chicago. Conveniently located near the heart of the US automotive industry and numerous job shops, LME is a first-of-its-kind experience, a one-stop shop for those seeking to discover what types of lasers and systems might be best suited for advanced production applications in a variety of industries.
“LME is aimed at manufacturers who understand that they need to use lasers to upgrade their processes to ensure that they remain competitive in today’s economy,” says LIA Executive Director Peter Baker.
With the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) in Youngstown, OH, being the pilot facility of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, it is clear that laser-assisted manufacturing is a front-burner technology on the economic agenda of the United States. Lasers are, or likely will be, at the center of many advanced production methods in the automotive, aerospace, defense, energy and medical industries.
ADVANCED EDUCATION FROM THE PROS
LME 2013 promises even more must-have content at its unique Laser Technology Showcase Theater on the exhibit floor. This exceptionally focused networking opportunity will once again feature an Ask the Expert booth organized by Dr. Rob Mueller of Lasers-at-Work Consulting near Toronto. The primary educational sessions will cover the types of lasers used in manufacturing, design considerations for industrial laser systems, laser safety and the economics of employing lasers.
At the inaugural LME in 2011, Mueller presented a course on choosing the low-cost method for manufacturing, examining remote laser welding, laser cutting and hybrid laser welding and comparing their cost structure and productivity with traditional processing methods.
The low-cost method for a manufacturer depends on production volume, Mueller advises. Without proper analysis of a project or product, “the break-point between traditional and laser processes is not clear, and one could easily choose the high-cost process. Recent advances in laser technology, efficiency and cost have also moved these breakpoints significantly, and laser processes that were technologically sound but not cost-effective, have become cost-effective for many applications.”
In addition to the nuts-and-bolts courses, two 90 minute tutorials and four keynote presentations will explore the outer reaches of what lasers are capable of in 21st century production settings.
In the tutorials, Dr. Markus Kogel-Hollacher of Precitec will address process monitoring for laser applications, while Dr. Ron Schaeffer, founder and CEO of PhotoMachining in Pelham, NH, will share his expertise in microprocessing.
Kogel-Hollacher, head of R&D projects for Precitec, says he will stress the history, physical basics and industrial uses of process-monitoring systems.
“Since CMOS camera technology has made an exceptional leap in resolution, speed, price and size, this technology has supported the reliability of process-monitoring systems dramatically,” he notes. The success of process-monitoring systems has been “generated by all suppliers of such systems by carefully analyzing the potential applications so as not to integrate alibi systems in industry. This has led to confidence in the technology.”
Schaeffer, author of the 2012 book Fundamentals of Laser Micromachining, has been a key player in the medical device market. In fact, PhotoMachining realized some of its most profitable years during the 2008-09 recession, he said earlier this year.
Lasers factor heavily into the manufacture of catheters. “We’ve seen lasers being used for tipping applications (and) what we primarily do, drill holes in them for drug delivery,” he recalled. “There’s a lot of welding involved within the catheters. We do the ablation: hole cutting, drilling, slicing, tipping.”
As per his company’s website, PhotoMachining “makes precision laser micromachining of otherwise unmachinable parts and materials a routine job.” The ability for attendees to hear real-world success stories like Schaeffer’s makes LME an indispensable event. For instance, he has built about a dozen systems for a customer who uses them to mark catheters.
“You want to stick these catheters in a body, and you want to know how far you’re sticking them in, so you mark graduations on them,” he explained. “This could be done with printing, but a lot of times the inks don’t stick very well to some of these plastics.”
“Our customer initially was using a YAG laser to mark these parts. The marks looked good to the eye — very high contrast — but if you looked at them up close, you could see that they were burned in, which you would expect from an infrared laser. You could run your hand over it and feel the mark — and where they stick these things you don’t really want to be feeling (imperfections). We came in with a UV laser, which just marks the surface, doesn’t impart any heat (and creates) an indelible mark. You can’t feel it.”
KEYNOTES SHED LIGHT ON CRITICAL TOPICS
Reprising his state-of-the-industry presentation from LME 2012, past LIA President David Belforte will again illuminate for attendees the lucrative hot spots where laser-based manufacturing means big bottom-line benefits.
“At the midpoint of 2013, performance in the industrial laser marketplace was following projections made in January,” Belforte said in June. “Market growth in revenues was in the mid-single digits as global manufacturing continued to feel the restrictions of soft economies. Even the vibrant market in China was not immune from first-half uncertainty as that economy was not exempt from market pressure and North American and European exports were lower than anticipated.”
“Even so, the market appears on track to end the year up on a high note as economies return to normality and fourth quarter orders for first quarter 2014 shipments are expected to build. Leading the market resurgence in the second half of 2013 will be fiber laser revenues, which will continue to outperform the market overall.”
Silke Pflueger, general manager of DirectPhotonics, will enlighten attendees about the impact of and applications for ultra-high brightness direct diodes.
“Laser cutting and welding have long become standard manufacturing technologies, helped by very reliable laser technologies that came into the market in the past 15 years,” she explains. “As the development of lasers has continued, a trickle has become a trend: Established players as well as a few start-ups are pushing into the laser material processing market with ultra-high brightness diode lasers, aggressively pursuing the space previously occupied by fiber, disk and even CO2 lasers. This is made possible by several new architectures that are accessing the inherent brightness of the diode laser material, leapfrogging current diode laser technology. Typically fiber delivered, they are starting to be used for cutting, welding and remote welding due to their high power levels and brightness.”
Pflueger is confident that these devices will rapidly become industry workhorses.
“New ultra-high brightness diodes, enabled by advances in semiconductor and packaging technology, are well on their way to become the new standard lasers in the 1 µm wavelength range,” she asserted. “With a good enough brightness to tackle most common metal manufacturing jobs, it will ultimately be their efficiency that will turn them into the leading lasers in the market. While immediate energy savings may not be large… diode lasers require fewer and simpler power supplies, smaller chillers (and) a less-complicated optical design, all leading to reduced cost, both for their operation and the original investment.”
Noted additive manufacturing expert Prabhjot Singh will present key insights into state-of-the-art AM and 3D printing during his talk. Singh, manager of the AM lab for GE Global Research in Niskayuna, NY, since August 2011, served nearly seven years as a mechanical engineer in GE’s product realization lab.
“In our group, because we look at materials, technology and process all at the same time, I can go take a concept to the materials folks, and then we’ll take it to a designer and if it’s something that we want to pursue, we make that decision,” Singh told Fast Company for an online profile last year.
During his graduate studies at University of Michigan, Singh developed a process-planning framework for the five-axis layered deposition complex 3D CAD models. In addition, he has developed a digital microprinting system for producing ceramics. The system is being employed to manufacture components in GE’s ultrasound probes. He leads the metal additive manufacturing activities at GE Global Research with a focus on the industrialization of laser powder-bed processes
WHAT LME MEANS TO YOU
“The idea of LME is to get in direct contact with the laser users and offer the opportunity to engage with the suppliers directly,” Kogel-Hollacher sums up. “All testimonials from the recent shows prove” that LME is filling the niche for which it is intended.
Mueller concurs. LME attracts “people from outside the established laser-user community: engineers coming to see what lasers can do, what a system costs, how big these systems are and what it takes to run one.”
For exhibitors, “LME offers something no other US show has: customers with knowledge and a real interest in lasers,” Pflueger concludes. “Compared to other, larger shows, the quality of the visitors is excellent, both for systems manufacturers and components suppliers. There’s no wasting time explaining to people what a laser is with the sure knowledge that they’ll never buy from you. Spending time on quality interactions leading to sales is what makes LME stand out.”
For more information, an advance program, and to register, visit www.laserevent.org.