Industrial lasers are lasers for applications in industry. A classical example is a wide range of lasers (or complete laser systems) for use in laser material processing, e.g. for laser cutting, welding and marking. There are various other industrial laser applications such as optical metrology with laser interferometers and laser scanners, optical sampling on semiconductor chips and fiber-optic sensors. Optical fiber communications can in principle also be regarded as an industrial laser application. Most frequently, however, the term industrial lasers is applied in the context of manufacturing.
The performance specifications for industrial lasers often do not approach the limits of currently available technology. On the other hand, there are often additional requirements which are specific for industrial applications:
High reliability over a large number of operation hours is often essential for amortizing the high cost of a laser system. Unexpected interruptions of production processes due to laser failures can be very costly.
Therefore, the laser development needs to pay special attention to reliability issues. For example, one needs to establish a highly reliable supply of optical and other components with well defined quality levels. The laser design must be carefully worked out.
The manufacturing procedures for industrial lasers must be carefully crafted and well defined to be consistently carried out by well trained personnel, and appropriate quality control procedures need to be established. The reliability of the built lasers must often be tested over prolonged times before first devices can be shipped.
In addition, well defined and regularly applied service procedures can be important. For those, typically used spare parts must be kept readily available.
Further, a manufacturer may use special techniques for monitoring lasers during their use. One may use direct data transmission from lasers to the the manufacturer such that the latter can recognize problems early on, for example in order to replace critical parts before they fail, or to initiate cleaning or realignment procedures.
Industrial lasers are often used in large quantities. That makes it easier for manufacturers to amortize the high cost of laser development. On the other hand, high volume production capabilities need to be built up, because industrial customers may not be willing to accept long waiting times before delivery.
Identifying Laser Applications
It is often essential to recognize laser applications with high economical benefits and to learn about their exact requirements.
It can frequently not be expected that the end user knows the precise conditions under which a certain laser-based manufacturing technique, for example, can be optimally applied. Therefore, it can be highly useful if a laser manufacturer has developed a deep understanding of certain laser-based processes and the optimum laser parameters for those. For the economical success of both parties, that can be more vital than the capability to achieve highest laser performance.
Sales and Marketing, Product Management
Obviously, the sales and marketing marketing as well as the product management of industrial lasers must appropriately address the user group. That allows a supplier to assist the customers in the whole process from the acquisition of suitable lasers to their successful operation. Ideally, a partnership is established where the laser manufacturer can continuously learn more about the price size customer needs and adapt the products and services accordingly.
Industrial Laser Manufacturers
A successful manufacturer of industrial lasers must be able to address the special requirements of this application field as explained above. Some of those requirements are difficult to meet by small laser companies, and particularly by startups. For example, it is difficult to establish the required large volume fabrication capabilities in a company with limited financial resources. Also, the laser development process with various precautions for high laser reliability can be difficult to establish.
For those reasons, industrial lasers are mostly produced by larger manufacturers having different characteristics compared with those for the production of scientific lasers. Such differences concerned not only the technical development and production, but also other aspects such as sales and marketing. If a large laser manufacturer is active in both industrial and scientific lasers, these activities are often pursued in separate branches, which may well cooperate in certain technical areas while having separate management and product development.
Industrial lasers are not necessarily sold as complete laser systems, but often in the form of OEM laser modules. That means that a manufacturer supplies lasers to one or more other manufacturers who integrate them into larger machines, for example for laser material processing. Each company can then concentrate on its own areas of responsibility, without a necessity to completely understand the whole system.
See the article on OEM laser modules for more details.
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The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide contains 13 suppliers for industrial lasers. Among them: