High power fibre lasers with unprecedented accuracy
Over the last ten years, high power fibre lasers have moved quickly from the research laboratory into production. In stark contrast to traditional lasers, fibre lasers now offer near perfect beam quality ensuring optimal focus even in long distances. In addition, high efficiency, low operating costs and virtually no maintenance allow for a simple integration into industrial, automated production processes.
Despite the advances, Femtosecond (fs) microprocessing which occurs in one millionth of one billionth, of a second is still in its infancy and has the reputation of being complex, expensive and unreliable. The LIFT project aims at changing this by offering a new, reliable high-power fs-laser source at a competitive price.
LIFT is a €9.6 million funded initiative under the Seventh Framework Programme. Started in September 2009, the 48-month project is coordinated by the Fraunhofer-Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS in Dresden, Germany and has a consortium of 21 partners from 9 countries working on various aspects of fibre laser development. In fact, according to LIFT project coordinator, Dr. Udo Klotzbach from the Fraunhofer-Institute Dresden the consortium comprises a whole host of experts including laser suppliers, producers of optical components, researchers and application engineers.
In practical terms, LIFT is developing fibre-based short pulse lasers and ultra short pulsed laser for so called gentle “cold treatment” of materials, avoiding any use of heat which is particularly relevant for special ceramic-materials or thin film applications. It is also hoping to enhance processes such as remote-laser cutting and welding with a new generation of fibre lasers. In the medical sector, LIFT aims at developing a fibre laser system which will treat various symptoms like acne and could eventually also be used to combat certain types of cancer. Crucially, the project will address renewable energies by improving the individual production steps in the manufacturing of solar modules.
Despite the long term success of established laser technology such as CO2 gas lasers, the fastest growing market sector is that of fibre lasers. In 2006, the fibre laser market segment was 8% and rose to 10% in 2008. The general consensus is that by 2013, the market share of fibre lasers will have a 30% shared in the overall laser market.
Dr Klotzbach is well aware of this potential and its importance saying: “In order to protect Europe's position as technology and manufacturing leader in industrial laser processing, it is imperative for European laser manufacturers to take a leadership role in fibre laser technologies.”
By the time, LIFT finishes in August 2013, Klotzbach hopes to have shared its progress amongst three key audiences. Firstly, by sharing pre-competitive information and results with the international professional R&D community, the Doctor aims at encouraging technology progress. Secondly, he wants the general public to understand how European R&D programmes are improving both quality of life and the economy. Finally, by raising such awareness amongst the general public, Klotzbach hopes that the next generation of young students will be inspired by LIFT and begin a career in science and technology.