The Reinvention of Manufacturing Technologies: The Reach of Laser Technology

Industry 4.0 has driven significant changes in manufacturing technologies. We have seen the emergence of new technologies and the evolution of existing technologies. This piece serves as your reintroduction to the laser technologies set to shape manufacturing in 2021.

Fibre Lasers

Since Facteon integrated its first fibre delivered laser in 2016, we have been watching the rapid growth of this technology. Today, it dominates the industrial laser market. Fibre lasers have not stopped developing either with higher powers and shorter pulses delivering new opportunities. Recent developments in beam shaping and oscillation (or wobble) of the focal point have also enhanced usability, offering the user improved performance compared to the early fibre lasers. This is most evident in the latest generation of our fibre laser welding machine where we use the Brightline capability from Trumpf to achieve the best possible weld performance for our customers.

Green & Blue Lasers

While developments in the 1070nm wavelength laser have been dominating the news, there has been a growing revolution at the other end of the spectrum. Both green (532nm) and blue (355nm) lasers have been steadily increasing in power levels with applications in the electronics and battery spaces benefitting from the higher absorption levels these wavelengths offer. The standout, of course, is Nuburu breaking into the kW range. It is also on course to further expand the possible in terms of those hard to weld materials.

Thulium Lasers

Perhaps with less fanfare, Thulium lasers, operating in the 2micron range, are also expanding the reach of lasers. Whilst dating from 2010, this article is still a good primer on the advantages of this wave length which is enabling the welding of clear plastics without absorbers. Perhaps this is the sort of technology that will help Michigan State University in their development of optically clear solar panels. 

Lasers Reach 3D Printing

Another area lasers are shaping is 3D printing. Whilst the novelty of seeing a 3D printer may have worn off, developments in the printing of metal and plastic parts could revolutionize how we manufacture components. Researchers at the University of Japan have successfully combined the printing of palladium and ABS taking the first tentative steps toward printing usable electronic components. Perhaps in the not too distant future, we will see circuit boards printed into consumer devices or wearable sensors configured and printed on demand at point of use.

To conclude, I encourage manufacturers of all sizes to take a critical look at how laser technologies could serve as a source of competitive advantage. In doing so, manufacturers are well placed to effectively future-proof their facilities in 2021.

Ken Jakeman

Ken Jakeman

Principal Engineer

As Facteon’s Principal Engineer, Ken brings an unrivalled depth of technical expertise and commercial acumen. Championing the culture of innovation within Facteon, Ken leads our R&D function while collaborating with our engineering, machinery assembly and digital manufacturing teams. Having held a variety of leadership and mechanical engineering roles internationally, Ken’s wealth of knowledge informs Facteon’s product roadmap and strategic direction. He holds a NZCE and Bachelor of Engineering, First Class, from University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Ken is also IntPE and CPEng registered.