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Water-guided laser gives precise cuts

15 Jul 2004

Combining a water jet with a pulsed fiber laser gives a maintenance-free tool for cutting thin sheet metal.

Synova, the Swiss pioneer of water-jet guided lasers, has teamed up with the fiber laser specialist IPG Photonics to create a cutting tool that it says is maintenance-free and makes "exceptional quality" cuts.

The main applications of the system are cutting metal stents, stencils and silicon wafers. Synova says that its system can cut 50 micron thick silicon at a speed of 200 mm/s and make 25 000 holes per hour in 50 micron thick stainless steel.

The system, which is now commercially available, couples a beam from a pulsed fiber laser into a thin (30-60 micron diameter) jet of water which is directed at the work piece. The approach cools the work piece and removes debris as its cuts to give a minimal heat-affected zone and smooth clean edges.

The 1060 nm IPG fiber laser inside the Synova system has an average power of 100 W and emits pulses between 100 ns and 1 micros in duration at a repetition rate of between 20 and 50 kHz.

Until recently Synova was using Nd:YAG lasers as a source but then realized that fiber lasers may offer some benefits due to their compact size, and superior beam quality and stability.

"Due to the exceptional beam quality of the fiber laser, thinner water jets can be used, enabling very accurate, faster cutting," explained a spokesman from Synova. "But the decisive argument was the maintenance-free aspect."

Author
Oliver Graydon is editor of Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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