Iradion Ceramic Core Co2 Lasers Advance Materials Processing as the World Changes, Co2 Laser Technology is Turned Inside Out

Robert Kloczkowski Marketing Manager and, Iradion Sales
Robert Kloczkowski Marketing Manager and, Iradion Sales

Robert Kloczkowski Marketing Manager and, Iradion Sales

The past three years have represented dramatic changes in society, geopolitics, technology, business and manufacturing. New products have been developed for the consumer, treaties and business agreements have opened new markets, different technologies have continued to accelerate with advances in materials, electronics, optics, software and lasers; all of which have impacted manufacturing processes and methods. Iradion Laser Inc has been fortunate to have contributed and participated in these some of these changes by advancing the technology of carbon dioxide lasers.

The explosive growth of plastics, polymers, ceramics and other non-metal materials in a variety of industries including electronics, medical, automotive, packaging, industrial processing, additive manufacturing and others have prompted an increased demand of the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) laser processing. Why? Because the CO2 laser wavelengths couple more efficiently with non-metals, plastics, polymers, ceramics and organic materials versus shorter 1 micron wavelengths of solid state fiber lasers. Despite the dramatic growth and popularity of solid state fiber lasers, CO2 lasers remain the best solutions for these materials and applications. CO2 wavelengths of 11.2, 10.6, 10.2 and 9.3 microns can be easily harnessed to perform precision cutting, drilling, marking, etching, ablating, surface modification, sintering and other processes. The graph displays the projected growth of CO2 lasers in important regions from 2019 through 2027. Though CO2 lasers have been used in production manufacturing since the 1980’s, the advancement of the technology achieved a major leap when Iradion patented the ceramic core CO2 laser design with integrated RF power supply in 2007 and 2008. An inert aluminum oxide ceramic core or chamber is utilized to hermitically seal the CO2 laser gas mixture as illustrated by Figure 1. The RF electrodes sandwich the ceramic core waveguide exciting the CO2 laser gas through the ceramic, thereby eliminating any possible contamination from internal metal components. The internal mirror mounts, integrated RF Power Supply, extruded aluminum heat sink enclosure complete the laser assembly as shown in cut away image in Figure 2. This innovative design using an aluminum oxide ceramic core has 30% the coefficient of thermal expansion when compared to metal tube lasers, thus enhancing excellent power stability over a larger range of power levels. Finally, the design allows for higher laser gas mixture chamber pressures which produces faster pulsing rise and fall times.

Typical CO2 laser designs use metal tubes or chambers that enclose the laser gas mixture of carbon dioxide, helium and nitrogen with the metal electrodes to excite the gas and create an infrared laser beam. Over time, the internal metal electrodes shed atoms that contaminate the laser gas reducing excitation efficiency and power output. Also, glass or metal chambers use O-ring seals and welds in their construction that allow the helium atoms to escape, further compromising the internal laser gas mixture causing loss of performance and reliability. Figure 3 illustrates the unique ceramic core design versus the traditional metal tube CO2 laser construction.

HOW DOES CERAMIC CORE CO2 LASERS IMPACT MODERN MATERIAL PROCESSING?

  
‚ÄčThe laser solution represents a vast improvement over traditional thermal methods of optical fiber splicing.
   

The laser beam quality, power and pointing stability as well as the pulsing characteristics determine how precise and accurate that materials are processed. In other words, a laser beam that exhibits an excellent mode and beam profile with consistent and repeatable performance will achieve faster processing speeds while insuring the highest part quality. Typical Iradion laser specifications meet or exceed most traditional CO2 lasers as demonstrated by following standards: Beam Quality M² < 1.2; Ellipticity < 1.2:1; Power Stability < 2%; rise/fall times < 75 µseconds. Note that special Iradion laser models for unique applications achieve even better specifications. Let’s examine several examples:

An additive manufacturing system manufacturer utilizes (4) Infinity 100-watt water-cooled 10.6 um lasers with high speed galvo optics to sinter advanced polymer and ceramic materials into complex 3D components for medical, electronic and aerospace applications. Tomasz Cieszynski, Nexa3D CTO commented, “Iradion’s ceramic core CO2 technology features precision pulsing characteristics that achieve 3x times better pixel resolutions than any other laser that we evaluated. As a result, our polymer and ceramic parts display exceptional quality, accuracy and repeatability meeting the tight tolerance requirements of our customers.”

A medical device manufacturer has developed a “state of the art” surgical system utilizing an Iradion Eternity 40-watt 11.2 um laser with a special spectrum feature. The unique 11.2 um wavelength was developed by Iradion to eliminate “beam blooming” and heat absorption by the carbon dioxide assist gas that is frequently used during laser surgery. Bob Rudko, Laser Engineering Scientist, stated “Iradion’s R&D team developed a special variation of its ceramic core CO2 laser to produce an 11.2 um wavelength that transmits more efficiently through our beam delivery system and focuses to a smaller spot size. Doctors report exceptional surgical results, especially when operating on delicate soft tissue.”

A global network company manufacturers a fiber optic splicing system that harnesses an Eternity 40-watt 10.6 um laser beam to melt the ends of fiber optic glass strands, so they can be precisely joined and bonded together. Utilizing a unique beam delivery system equipped power feedback monitoring, the laser beam is split and focused to achieve uniform heating and melting of the optical fibers. The laser solution represents a vast improvement over traditional thermal methods of optical fiber splicing.

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT FOR CO2 LASERS…

Advances in non-metal materials are rapidly replacing many applications that traditionally used metal components and assemblies, because they exceed some metals in strength versus weight, corrosion resistance, more efficient manufacturing processes, and lower raw material costs. As a result, CO2 lasers will play an important role in processing these non-metal materials.

The automotive industry represents a major market because of the use of composites, polymers and plastics offer dramatic weight reductions for traditional autos as well as the EVS models. Today, over 30% of the materials in the typical automobile are non-metals of which many can be effectively processed with CO2 lasers. Cutting, welding, ablating, marking, etching and 3D manufacturing represent processes that can be used to process parts. As the demand for fuel efficient vehicles continues to grow, the use of non-metal materials will expand dramatically.

Other industries are following this pattern, but for different reasons. CO2 lasers can process non-metal materials with better flexibility, higher efficiency and lower costs than traditional mechanical or hard tooling methods. Industries such as packaging and converting, medical, electronics, plastic extruding, textiles, leather processing, wood processing and others are opportunities where a computer controlled laser beam of energy represents a tool with the speed of light!