Machine-shop owner and author/columnist Dr. Ron Schaeffer will deliver the closing keynote address on the use of ultrafast lasers in manufacturing on Sept. 24, the second and final day of the Laser Institute of America’s fourth annual Lasers for Manufacturing Event® (LME®) in Schaumburg, IL.
Schaeffer, founder and CEO of PhotoMachining in Pelham, NH, is also a columnist for Industrial Laser Solutions magazine and author of the 2012 book Fundamentals of Laser Micromachining.
Schaeffer brings exactly the kind of real-world success stories that hit home for LME attendees. His job shop is particularly successful in the medical device market. “We had some of our best years in 2008/2009, because we were heavily entrenched” in that area, he has said.
And, since lasers are the only way to manufacture many complex medical devices and components like stents, catheters and diagnostic tools, profits can be generous. For example, diabetes test strips include a thin conductive layer of metal or ink patterned with lasers. “This has been a big area for us; we’ve got laser systems doing this in several of the top manufacturers of these devices.”
In fact, he has noted that even though his is one of three job shops within 10 miles of one another, they rarely overlap competitively because of the volume of work available.
In his recent exhaustive study of system and operating costs, Schaeffer noted that picosecond lasers are coming down in price to the point where they are as attractive as nanosecond devices for machining. He also emphasized that CO2 lasers, the most common in the industry, are the most inexpensive on a dollars-per-photon basis, although fiber lasers can approach those prices depending on power range.
About 15 years ago, when PhotoMachining opened for business, Schaeffer looked to diode-pumped solid-state lasers to replace UV excimer units. Now, with picosecond and femtosecond devices, “the pulse length is so short you can get really good processing quality” without UV lasers.
The importance of processing quality in the medical device field can’t be stressed enough. Lasers easily fill the bill, Schaeffer says.
“We have a big customer, and we built about a dozen systems for them for marking catheters,” he explains. “You want to stick these catheters in a body and you want to know how far you’re sticking them in, so you mark graduations on them. This could be done with printing, but a lot of times the inks don’t stick very well to some of these plastics.
“Our customer initially was using a YAG laser to mark these parts. The marks looked good to the eye — very high contrast — but if you looked at them up close, you could see that they were burned in, which you would expect from a red laser. You could run your hand over it and feel the mark — and where they stick these things you don’t really want to be feeling (imperfections). We came in with a UV laser, which just marks the surface, doesn’t impart any heat (and creates) an indelible mark. You can’t feel it.”
Schaeffer’s keynote address will be one of four at LME 2014, along with basic courses on types of lasers, laser manufacturing systems and how to use them profitably, and laser safety. The conference will also feature tutorials on design for welding and an overview of laser additive manufacturing systems.
For more information on LME 2014 and to register, visit www.laserevent.org.
The Laser Institute of America (LIA) is the professional society for laser applications and safety serving the industrial, educational, medical, research and government communities throughout the world since 1968. www.lia.org, 13501 Ingenuity Drive, Ste 128, Orlando, FL 32826, +1.407.380.1553.