The past three years have represented dramatic changes in society, geopolitics, technology, business and manufacturing. New products have been developed for the consumer, treaties and business agreements have opened new markets, different technologies have continued to accelerate with advances in materials, electronics, optics, software and lasers; all of which have impacted manufacturing processes and methods. Iradion Laser Inc has been fortunate to have contributed and in these changes by advancing the technology of carbon dioxide lasers.
The explosive growth of plastics, polymers, ceramics and other non-metal materials in a variety of industries including electronics, medical, automotive, packaging, industrial processing, additive manufacturing and others have prompted an increased demand in the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) laser processing. Why? Because the CO2 laser wavelengths couple more efficiently with non-metals, plastics, polymers, ceramics and organic materials versus shorter 1 micron wavelengths of solid state fiber lasers. Despite the dramatic growth and popularity of solid state and fiber lasers, CO2 lasers remain the best solutions for these materials and applications. CO2 wavelengths of 11.2, 10.6, 10.2 and 9.3 microns can be easily harnessed to perform precision cutting, drilling, marking, etching, ablating, surface modification, sintering and other processes. The graph depicts a visualization of the projected 4% growth of CO2 lasers in important global regions from 2019 through 2027.
IRADION’S CO2 LASER DESIGN IS A TECHNOLOGY GAME CHANGER…
Though CO2 lasers have been used in production manufacturing since the early 1980’s, the technology achieved a major advancement when Iradion patented the ceramic core CO2 laser design with integrated RF power supply in 2008. An inert aluminum oxide ceramic core or chamber is utilized to hermitically seal the CO2 laser gas mixture as illustrated by Figure 1. The RF electrodes sandwich the ceramic core waveguide exciting the CO2 laser gas remotely through the ceramic. This eliminates any possible contamination from internal metal components, and more importantly, any laser gas leakage through seals or electrode feedthroughs causing loss of performance. In fact, Iradion is the only CO2 laser manufacturer that warrants all models against laser gas degradation for a period of 7 years, offering free laser gas refills.
The internal mirror mounts, integrated RF Power Supply, extruded aluminum heat sink enclosure complete the laser assembly as shown in cut away image in Figure 2. This innovative design using an aluminum oxide ceramic core has 30% higher electrical efficiency when compared to metal tube lasers, thus enhancing excellent power stability over a larger range of power levels. Finally, the design allows for higher laser gas chamber pressures which leads to shorter pulsing rise and fall times.
Typical CO2 laser designs use metal tubes or chambers that enclose the metal electrodes together with the laser gas mixture of carbon dioxide, helium and nitrogen. Over time, the direct contact of the metal electrodes with the laser gas caused the sputtering of metal atoms that contaminate the laser gas reducing excitation efficiency and power output. Also, conventional CO2 laser designs use O-ring seals, welds and electrode feedthroughs in their construction that allow the helium atoms to escape, further compromising the laser gas mixture. Figure 3 illustrates the unique ceramic core design that eliminates these issues that often plague metal tube CO2 lasers performance and reliability.
HOW DOES CERAMIC CORE CO2 LASERS IMPACT MODERN MATERIAL PROCESSING?
A laser’s beam quality, power and pointing stability as well as the pulsing rise/fall times are important factors how precisely and accurately that materials are processed. In other words, a laser beam that exhibits an excellent mode and beam profile with consistent and repeatable performance will achieve faster processing speeds while insuring the highest part quality. Iradion’s laser performance and reliability meet or exceed most traditional CO2 lasers. Typical Iradion laser specifications are: Beam Quality M² < 1.2; Ellipticity < 1.2:1; Power Stability < 2%; rise/fall times < 75 µseconds. Note that special Iradion can offer special non-standard products that optimize specific parameters for unique applications. Let’s examine several examples:
Nexa3D, an additive manufacturing system manufacturer utilizes (4) Infinity 100-watt water-cooled 10.6 um lasers with high speed galvo optics to sinter advanced polymer and ceramic materials into complex 3D components for medical, electronic and aerospace applications. Tomasz Cieszynski, Nexa3D CTO commented, “Iradion’s ceramic core CO2 technology features precision pulsing characteristics that achieve 3x times better pixel resolutions than any other laser that we evaluated. As a result, our polymer and ceramic parts display exceptional quality, accuracy and repeatability meeting the tight tolerance requirements of our customers.”
Laser Engineering, a medical device manufacturer has developed a “state of the art” surgical system utilizing an Iradion Eternity 40-watt laser with a special wavelength. The unique 11.2 um wavelength was developed by Iradion to eliminate “beam blooming” and heat absorption by the carbon dioxide assist gas that is frequently used during laser surgery. Bob Rudko, Laser Engineering Scientist, stated “Iradion’s R&D team developed a special variation of its ceramic core CO2 laser to produce an 11.2 um wavelength that transmits more efficiently through our beam delivery system and focuses to a smaller spot size. Doctors report exceptional surgical results, especially when operating on delicate soft tissue.”
A global network company manufacturers a fiber optic splicing system that harnesses an Eternity 40-watt 10.6 um laser beam to melt the ends of fiber optic glass strands, so they can be precisely joined and bonded together. Utilizing a unique beam delivery system that is equipped with power feedback monitoring, the laser beam is split and focused to achieve uniform heating and melting of the optical fibers. The laser solution represents a vast improvement over traditional thermal methods of optical fiber splicing.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT FOR CO2 LASERS…
Advances in non-metal materials are rapidly replacing many applications that traditionally used metal components and assemblies, because they exceed some metals: greater strength versus weight, better corrosion resistance, more efficient manufacturing processes, and lower raw material costs. As a result, CO2 lasers will play an important role in processing these non-metal materials.
The laser solution represents a vast improvement over traditional thermal methods of optical fiber splicing
The automotive industry represents a major market, because of the use of composites, polymers and plastics offer dramatic weight reductions for traditional autos as well as the EVS models. Today, over 30% of the materials in the typical automobile are non-metals of which many can be effectively processed with CO2 lasers. Cutting, welding, ablating, marking, etching and 3D manufacturing represent processes easily performed by CO2 lasers. As demand for energy efficient vehicles continues to grow, the use of non-metal materials will expand dramatically.
Other industries are following this pattern, but for different reasons. CO2 lasers can process non-metal materials with better flexibility, higher efficiency and lower costs than traditional mechanical or hard tooling methods. Industries such as packaging and converting, medical, electronics, 3D sintering of polymers, textiles, leather processing, wood processing and others are opportunities for a “Tool” that moves with the speed of light!