While the more exotic breakthroughs in industrial lasers tend to get the headlines, small to mid-size fabricators continue to harness the time- and labor-saving benefits of workhorse cutting, welding and marking systems from suppliers who combine intensive process guidance with smarter operating software.
Advances that include IPG’s hand-held LightWELD 1500 unit, higher throughput additive manufacturing systems and more robust blue wavelength lasers garnered plenty of accolades this year. The LightWELD was one of the three finalists in the manufacturing category of the annual PRISM awards presented by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.
While larger-scale cutting, welding and marking systems tend to be the focus at Manufacturing Engineering—and we don’t disappoint, catching you up on these systems later in this article—it’s worth discussing the “riches in niches” afforded by mastering more advanced photonics-based systems. Shops that invest in the right high-end equipment and navigate the stringent vendor validation process have found success in, for instance, medical contract manufacturing.
The other two PRISM manufacturing finalists, Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) and nLight, Vancouver, Wash., introduced 3D printing advances to increase the speed and quality of industrial production. The AFX-1000 from nLight “was developed to enable the widespread adoption of laser powder bed fusion … metal additive manufacturing for series production,” according to a press release. The release stated that “nLIGHT’s AFX fiber laser has been shown to significantly increase build rates while maintaining excellent material quality and consistency. AFX achieves these results by allowing the beam size and shape to be tailored in real time, entirely within the fiber laser, and without the use of complex free-space optics.”
BMF ultimate won the 2021 PRISM for its microArch S240 micro-precision 3D printer tailored to short-run industrial production. The S240 “is built upon BMF’s patented Projection Micro Stereolithography technology or PµSL, a technique that allows for rapid photopolymerization of an entire layer of liquid polymer using a flash of UV light at micro-scale resolution,” according to a press release. “The superior production of intricate, exact, and replicable parts makes PµSL optimal for end-part and prototyping use cases across a wide range of industries, including medical device manufacturing, microfluidics, MEMS, biotech and pharmaceuticals, electronics, education, and research and development.”
Read more: Industrial Lasers Power Up