Fiber lasers: Opening the way to the future of next generation processing technology
Laser processing technology that uses laser optics is widely used in such processing applications as cutting material, welding, and boring. Traditionally, carbon dioxide lasers and YAG lasers have often been used for sheet-metal cutting and welding applications, respectively.
However, fiber lasers continue to offer increasingly higher output, and processing technologies using these lasers continue to make progress. They are now even able to handle applications that were traditionally handled by carbon dioxide lasers (sheet-metal cutting) and YAG lasers (welding). As cutting/welding quality reaches or exceeds the same level, conventional lasers are being rapidly replaced with fiber lasers, which offer several advantages including (1) reduced maintenance costs due to simple maintenance (since there are no complicated optical systems) and low power consumption; (2) smaller sizes due to no need for large-scale cooling systems; and (3) higher beam quality for high speed processing and deep penetration welding.
Although fiber lasers have existed on a conceptual level since the 1960s, the fact that their output has now reached a practical level is largely because their element technologies (such as optical fiber, optical component, and semiconductor laser technologies) have made significant progress since then. Furukawa Electric has applied leading technologies it has developed in the optical communication field toward fiber lasers, and has quickly assumed a role as a Japanese pioneer in developing these lasers.
Fiber laser element technologies
The Furukawa Electric Group is now applying the core technologies it has developed in the optical communication field toward developing and manufacturing fiber lasers.
The media and resonators used in fiber lasers to amplify light are made from fibers, delivering stable output without any need for optical axis adjustment. The following illustration depicts the basic configuration of a fiber laser. Fiber laser output is increased by further bundling the multiple transmission fibers that form this basic configuration.
Furukawa Electric fiber lasers use some of the world's most advanced technology for each element technology (pumping light sources, amplification media, and oscillation output), resulting in high output and efficiency. Furukawa Electric lasers are chosen by our many customers due to their superior beam control that delivers high quality cutting surface and welding.
Furukawa Electric Chiba Works maintains a permanent application lab for use in processing samples upon customer request.
Takashi Kayahara, from the Industrial Laser System Department in Furukawa Electric's New Business Development Department (which is involved in developing and mass producing fiber lasers), had the following to say.
"Our current lineup consists of 500 W/1 kW single mode fiber lasers suitable for processing thin sheets and 4 kW/6 kW multi-mode fiber lasers that can handle material up to thick sheets. We now supply these products to fiber laser processing machine manufacturers. We continued to increase communication output from 100 W in 2008, and were the first in Japan to begin mass-producing 300/500 W class products in 2011. We encountered many difficulties during the development phase as we attempted to increase output. For example, heat generation would cause the connection to burn. However, we were able to clear our target output level and then finally deliver our first product. Our team members (including group companies inside and outside of Japan) were all overjoyed.
The major components that go into Furukawa Electric fiber lasers are made within the Furukawa Electric Group, and it is through combining all our strengths that we were able to resolve our issues. We will continue to offer a stable supply of products and maintenance services in order to contribute to the manufacturing activities of our customers."