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This article details recent advances in laser technology that are enabling gasket manufacturers to handle a wider variety of materials than before and to bid short run and intricate jobs that were previously uneconomical to quote. New types of lasers, laser delivery methods and laser platforms used to process a variety of non-metallic materials for the gasket industry are the focus of this article.

In addition, operating costs, operator training, safety, and maintenance issues surrounding the use of lasers are included for consideration. Case studies feature how the introduction of lasers has dramatically changed the business of several manufacturers. Finally, the paper provides answers to questions frequently asked by manufacturers who are considering getting started with lasers – either by contracting with a laser job shop or purchasing a system for in-house production.

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Laser Basics for Die Cutting Fabricators

Laser BasicsHistorically lasers have not been the "go to" device in the gasket industry because of speed, cost, and technology limitations. But with new developments in lasers, especially in laser control, now is a good time to update your laser knowledge base.

Laser System Development

Lasers began to make an appearance in industry in the 1970s for cutting and engraving. The 1980s brought the advent of laser cutting as part of CNC processes utilizing stepper controls. But what still limited the extensive use of lasers on many jobs was material processing expertise and quality control.

Along with the advancements in personal computer technology in the 1990s, the use of lasers in manufacturing became much more prevalent. The power of PCs enabled the integration of computer aided design (CAD) into laser systems. It became feasible to digitally design and implement a pattern through the same process.

A drawback at this time was that many systems had proprietary software and operating systems. However, most systems in the field today have standardized to the Microsoft Windows™ operating system, which allows for greater application flexibility and easier system upgrades and maintenance.

Another recent and significant development in lasers is system modularity. New "hybrid" laser modules can be added to rotary die cutting lines. These modular lasers are designed to work in a wide variety of production lines.

Adding laser technology to rotary die cutting greatly enhances speed by combining what had historically been two processes. Also, there is greater flexibility in the types of materials that can be processed with a hybrid system as both macro and micro cuts can be made.

The word, LASER is derived from Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It’s an energy source, much like a light bulb. A laser works by transmitting a light beam – of one color in the spectrum – in a concentrated focused path.

A working laser was first demonstrated in 1960 at the Hughes Research Laboratory. It was originally thought of as a solution in search of a problem. Now, the greatest use of lasers is in optical storage devices such as compact disc and DVD players.

Laser System Development

Through the years, improvements in laser technology have produced steady increases in output power. Gases, dyes, crystals and chemical compounds are now used in common lasers to produce a variety of wavelength bands to meet different application and material processing needs.

Lasers are used in medicine for a variety of procedures including bloodless surgery, eye treatment, dentistry, and kidney stone reduction. Lasers are also found in a myriad of defense applications such as weapon guidance, target marking, and electro-optical countermeasures. Lasers are even used for packaging applications that require scoring for easy opening, or perforating for breathability.

New Developments In Laser Technology

New types of lasers

  • Economical, low maintenance sealed lasers with up to 1000 watts of power.
  • Higher powered UV lasers that produce better edge quality and the capability to produce finer cut features. This means cleaner and faster ablation (or removal) of certain materials.
  • Alternative wavelengths that offer the ability to tailor the wavelength to a specific material type to improve cutting speeds and cut quality. For example, reduction of heat affected zones (HAZ), smoke accumulation, and charring.

Faster cutting without sacrificing accuracy

  • High speed, high performance, motion systems that use fiber optics and faster, more accurate 2 or 3-axis galvanometers.

Integration options with material handling systems

  • Modular lasers that can be added directly on to the die cutting process line. These lasers typically have a small footprint and can be adapted for use in prototyping all the way through full production. Many use galvanometer technology that allows process flexibility including kiss cutting, perforating, scoring, slitting and through cutting.

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