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Everything old is new again

09 Jun 2009

Laser Beam Products successfully reworked a set of infrared mirrors used in an Antarctic research vessel - once it removed the seaweed.

Instead of buying new optical components, cash-strapped manufacturers are increasingly keen to revive the ones they already own through reconditioning or reworking. As a result, companies able to offer a refurbishing service are finding a range of customers beating a path to their door.

Laser Beam Products, Biggleswade, UK, sells mirrors and reflectors for CO2 laser systems, and is seeing this trend at first hand. "Copper-based mirrors provide a durable mirror with good reflectivity across a broad spectrum of the infrared," said CEO Mark Wilkinson. "Their massive power-handling ability gives a long working life, but refurbishment is still necessary after a time."

The financial incentives for refurbishment are largest in cases where parts have become obsolete. "We overhauled the complete optical system for a 25 kW laser where the parts weren't available any more," commented Wilkinson. "That probably saved the customer £5–10k compared with the cost of manufacturing them again as one-offs, and avoided the risks that they wouldn't fit or that there was some subtlety that was missed."

Sometimes the wear and tear on components can be drastic. "We have a long-standing relationship with a US university that operates a laser on an Antarctic research vessel, studying the ozone layer and atmospheric gases," said Wilkinson. "When measurements are being taken, the mirrors and optical components are exposed to sea spray and other Antarctic conditions, and so the mirrors degrade substantially."

When Wilkinson's team receives the mirrors for reworking, the components are a long way from mint condition. "They are usually encrusted in salt and almost unrecognisable. Occasionally we see them arrive in boxes with seaweed attached."

But even such extreme weathering can be remedied by machining away the original surface, repolishing and applying a new surface, in a process taking a total of 4–5 weeks.

"A reworked part is effectively a new part, with no problematic issues over critical parameters, thread sizes or design features," noted Wilkinson. "It is effectively the same part that was supplied by the OEM. That gives customers a great deal of confidence."

• Laser Beam Products is exhibiting at LASER World of Photonics, hall B1, booth 639.

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