Heavy industry sparks debate at Laser 2007

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Bigger and better seemed to be the theme of Laser 2007, held in Munich on 18 - 21 June. Not just in terms of the number of exhibitors (1008, a record high) or visitors (25,000, a 10 per cent increase on the last event two years ago), but in the lasers themselves that were on display around the halls.

Hall B.3 was full of the sounds of grinding, clunking, and thumping, as many exhibitors decided to show off just what their huge, heavy industrial lasers could achieve. At times, smoke hissed from one of the stands.

Interest is increasing in the use of lasers in manufacturing, with another trade fair, Lasys, to take place in Stuttgart early next year.

It wasn’t just the stands that represented th industrial interest, but also the group of Industry Workshops that took place for three of the days, covering topics such as 'Lasers for Manufacturing Photovoltaics' and 'Medical Device Manufacturing'.

However, underneath the industrial noise, a quiet debate could be heard amongst many of the exhibitors and visitors, discussing whether it would be disk, or fibre lasers, that proved to be the most suitable for these applications.

This debate was reflected in the variety of talks on Wednesday’s workshops. Kurt Mann of Trumpf made the case for why the disk laser is ‘a perfect platform for advanced laser concepts’ whereas Denis Gapontsev of IPG Photonics examined how fibre lasers are penetrating the industrial market with new and exciting applications.

It may be that both are going to play large parts in industrial work of the future. Trumpf at least seems to think so, having announced at the event a joint venture with Jenoptik to produce 'optical engines' for fibre lasers.

Both companies will have equal share of the new company, JT Optical Engine, which will be based in Jena, Germany, and be staffed by about 20 employees.

Peter Leibinger, executive vice president of Trumpf, said: ‘We want to open up and enlarge the market for low-power fibre lasers by offering industrial optical systems for a broad spectrum of fibre laser end-user equipment.’

However, he also warned that at present the demand for fibre lasers with very high beam quality, and powers of greater than 1kW is ‘promising, but still small relative to the entire market.’

To find out whether this will be the case, or whether fibre lasers will indeed saturate the market as many predict, we may have to wait until the next Laser show, to be held 15-18 June 2009.