CO2 or Fiber Lasers
Outdoor / UV Stable
Jet Black Color
20 Industrial Laser Solutions JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017 www.industrial-lasers.com
$200,000. Companies like Edge Wave (Würselen, Germany) also
provide very high-power lasers using slab amplifiers, but in general these lasers are used for very specific applications.
A newcomer to the UFP market, IPG Photonics (Oxford, MA), is
now selling a 50W laser with a 15ns pulse length for about $65,000.
In addition to the low cost, these lasers require only a 60s warmup
time from cold start, and the small head and rack-mount power
supply can easily be integrated into either existing platforms or
small envelope designs.
There are femtosecond lasers commercially available from 10 to
900fs, but the real useful range is between ~200 and 500fs. Above
500fs, the laser is really more like a picosecond laser. Below 200fs,
there is usually no noticeable improvement in quality and the optics
become much harder to manage because of the broadband nature
of the light. In this useful range, in most materials there is not a
noticeable difference in the quality of many materials, so the majority of applications for this type of laser currently use the fundamental wavelength. There are some materials like glass and some polymers that, even in the femtosecond regime, process with better
edge quality in the UV—and UV is also useful if the smallest spot
size is needed. Note that one of the other virtues of a smaller spot
size is a smaller kerf, meaning less material removal and therefore
less debris and a cleaner cut.
As with the picosecond laser discussed above, the initial entry
price of these lasers was in excess of $300,000. Now, the cost for
a high-power (20 W), IR-only laser is about $200,000–225,000, with
the harmonics adding another $20,000.
On the very high-energy side, companies like Amphos
(Herzogenrath, Germany) make femtosecond lasers with hun-
dreds of watts of output, but these are not normally used in typical micromachining applications and they also carry a large price
tag. Light Conversion (Vilnius, Lithuania) sells a model that is air-cooled, has an extremely small power supply, plugs into the wall,
and costs just over $100,000 for 3W of IR. Long-time femtosecond laser supplier Amplitude Systèmes (Pessac, France) is offering
a 100W, 300µJ/pulse laser, as well as a new, low-cost 10W laser
with a <500fs pulse length. Industry giants Spectra-Physics and
Coherent are also offering very competitive products.
Price disrupter IPG Photonics is now selling a femtosecond
laser with 10W output at the fundamental wavelength and with
a ~500fs pulse length, which should enter the market at approximately $100,000. So, the push to get a femtosecond laser on the
market below $100,000 is definitely achievable, and may be reality by the time this article actually goes to press.
Now, the ideal laser I wished for many years ago is pretty much a
reality. I am not really sure where things go from here. A few years
ago, I would have said that higher pulse energy is needed, but I
have found over the last few years that for most applications, we
do not even use the power or energy per pulse we have available.
When using galvanometers, a good benchmark is that at least
50µJ/pulse is needed for picosecond and nanosecond lasers, and
25µJ/pulse for femtosecond lasers with pulse lengths <500fs. Too
much energy per pulse—or too high a repetition rate—can compromise the on-target quality. Photonics Industries (Ronkonkoma,
NY) is selling lasers with up to 700µJ of pulse energy for those
applications that really require it. Going to pulse lengths shorter
than about 200fs does not seem to be an interesting path. So,
smaller and cheaper seems to be the direction and femtosecond
lasers are becoming almost “pedestrian” [ 2]. Therefore, margins
will deteriorate, but volumes—when these lasers are well below
$100,000—should increase significantly.
In closing, the simple way to choose the correct laser for your
application is to choose the one that has sufficient quality and costs
the least. I look at an application and assume it can be done with
nanosecond IR photons. If not, then consider either using visible or
UV photons and/or going to shorter pulse lengths. This seems like
quite a daunting task, and it may be, but there are good resources—
including laser manufacturers and laser contract manufacturers—
that can help in this process. ✺
[ 1] R. Schaeffer, “Commercially available ultrafast-pulse lasers: An update,” Industrial Laser
Solutions, 29, 6, 18–20 and 32 (Nov/Dec. 2014); http://bit.ly/2f TNRb Y.
[ 2] See http://bit.ly/2ghQdCr.
DR. RONALD D. SCHAEFFER ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is chief executive officer at PhotoMachining, Pelham, NH; http://photomachining.com. He is also a member of
the Industrial Laser Solutions editorial advisory board and a regular contributor to ILS.