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JUL/AUG 2013  

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News/Features: Laser Points

Hard and brittle materials, like certain types of glass and sapphire, are difficult to process—even for lasers. Poor absorption at most wavelengths combined with poor heat-transfer properties make it difficult or impossible to realize structures in these materials.

Among the reasons manufacturers perform surface-texture operations is to change a part’s appearance, change how it feels, lower its reflectivity and/or decrease friction. Textures can be applied by sandblasting, waterjet cutting, mechanical imprinting, chemical etching, EDMing and lasing.

Lasers operate across a spectrum of light, from the far-infrared (IR) through the visible and into the deep-ultraviolet (UV). Wavelength greatly influences light’s absorption by a specific material and the mechanism by which energy is transferred into that material.

The laser world descends each year on the Photonics West conference and exhibition. The event is hosted by SPIE, an international society devoted to advancing biophotonics, biomedical optics, industrial lasers, optoelectronics, microfabrication and green photonics.

Carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers are composite materials that offer numerous benefits as workpiece materials. Reaping those benefits, however, requires effort. This is because CFRPs are non-homogeneous, which makes them tough to cut.

Carbon nanotubes represent the ultimate in carbon-fiber toughness. These reinforced polymers—used in the manufacture of Lockheed’s F-35 Lightning II warplane—are several times stronger and more costly than regular carbon fibers.

As I write this column, the world has just been made aware of the Popigai Astroblem, an ancient asteroid crater in Russia’s eastern Siberia that reportedly contains trillions of carats of easily accessible, high-quality diamonds. If true, the site holds 10 times more diamonds than the rest of the world combined. And because they are “impact diamonds,” they are twice as hard as their normally formed counterparts.

Laser additive manufacturing (LAM) has generated a lot of interest lately. Articles about the technology are appearing with greater frequency in technical journals—as well as in mass-media publications. Photographs depicting LAM have even graced the front covers of some of these publications.

High-speed injection molding and extruding are used extensively to manufacture disposable, plastic medical devices. These processes can produce a vast array of part shapes and configurations.

The cleanliness of laser-processed parts is of paramount importance, especially when producing medical, semiconductor and aerospace components.

Laser-drilled holes with diameters less than 100µm usually are considered “small.” However, lasers can produce holes down to fractions of a micron across.