Laser technology in manufacturing is everywhere, touching our lives in many, invisible ways. For example, lasers are used to cut the material that the airbags in our cars are made of, the glass for our smart phone and tablet screens and the tiny, delicate medical stents used to improve our health and enhance our longevity. Lasers are used to weld airbag detonators, and the batteries in our handheld mobile devices; to drill engine components for planes; and to mark or engrave all of the above.
Recently, I've noticed an increase in the use of polymers for stents and scaffolds in medical device manufacturing, largely because it offers a range of interesting features and applications. The only way to manufacture stents and scaffolds made of these materials, however, is by using a femtosecond (fs) laser, which provides both the necessary cutting capability and cut quality.
Just about a year ago, I blogged about the two main benefits of using an ultrashort femtosecond (fs) laser for hypo tube and stent cutting. Specifically, since the fs laser produces pulses that are shorter than the conduction time for most metals, there is no thermal “fingerprint” left on the part. And, pure ablation rather than melt ejection means the cut requires minimal post processing, even for materials like nitinol. Figure 1 exemplifies this precise cut and finish using the fs laser for a nitinol stent.
Ultra-fast laser micromachining has been getting a lot of press lately; does it live up to its billing? In my view, ultra-fast micromachining has terrific potential, but I’d like to temper the enthusiasm with a little dose of reality. Amada Miyachi America has a new micromachining applications laboratory set up with a variety of different ultra-fast laser micromachining sources and motion platforms, so I am in a perfect position to show some examples of what ultra-fast laser micromachining can do from a laser independent systems integrator perspective
Laser micromachining is a process used to make tiny features in parts - measured in micrometers or millimeters. Pulsed lasers effectively complete this work by depositing very small, finite amounts of energy into a material, resulting in extremely precise and reproducible material removal. Suitable deposition of energy enables the laser to ablate, cut, drill, machine or scribe a material. A number of pulsed lasers are available for micromachining; in these examples, we used a 20W single mode pulsed fiber laser marker.
You read that correctly – laser micromachining of metals can be faster and cheaper with fiber laser markers. Their superior beam quality can achieve results similar to traditional machining technologies at less than half the cost! Plus – laser markers can…mark things! Who wouldn’t want one piece of equipment to do several things? And do them so well?
In our last blog, we explored when laser markers make sense in comparison to other marking technologies. Key reasons included high mark and material variation, fragile material, and mark durability. But did you know laser markers can also be used for machining? Yep - your laser marker can do double duty as a micromachining system!