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Delivering beam delivery

Warren Clark traces the history of beam delivery specialists Laser Mech

Laser Mech (or Laser Mechanisms, to give the company its original title) was founded by William Fredrick in Detroit, USA, in 1980, as a supplier of CO2 beam delivery systems. Fredrick had previously founded Photon Sources, a CO2 laser manufacturer, in the 1970s.

‘CO2 lasers were the dominant technology of the time,’ says Arvi Ramswami, who runs Laser Mech’s European operations in Belgium. ‘When Bill left Photon Sources, there was no beam delivery company that could meet market needs. He set up Laser Mechanisms with a view to supplying optomechanical systems for the materials processing market.’

A beam delivery system is the optomechanical steering equipment that takes the beam from the laser source to the machine that is carrying out the work. ‘There are lots of permutations within this set-up,’ says Ramswami. ‘For example, you might need one beam or multiple beams. You’ll need beam steering equipment, and beam focusing equipment or processing heads in order to cut, weld, heat treat or ablate the material. The demands of the application will dictate which configuration of products to choose.’

Laser Mech’s expertise has led to the development of a modular range of standard products, which covers 70 per cent of the beam delivery product range. The rest comprises custom products for new applications and specific customer needs.

As the markets have changed over the years, so has the Laser Mech product range. ‘The lasers changed and the laser powers increased, so we have always had to keep developing and growing alongside the laser market,’ says Ramswami. ‘We had to follow the lasers, in order to drive the market.’

After a decade of largely US-only sales, in 1990 Laser Mech began a serious move into overseas sales in Europe and beyond, which is when Ramswami first became involved via his time at optics company Laser Power Corporation. His responsibility within Laser Power was for beam delivery, which is how he began representing Laser Mech in Europe. It was a ‘natural development’, according to Ramswami, for him to set up Laser Mech Europe in Belgium in 1998, which is responsible for sales, service and support in Europe, as well as parts of Asia (excluding China, which is dealt with by an office in Shanghai). His first task was to set up a sales network.

Laser Mech (or Laser Mechanisms, to give the company its original title) was founded by William Fredrick in Detroit, USA, in 1980, as a supplier of CO2 beam delivery systems. Fredrick had previously founded Photon Sources, a CO2 laser manufacturer, in the 1970s.

‘CO2 lasers were the dominant technology of the time,’ says Arvi Ramswami, who runs Laser Mech’s European operations in Belgium. ‘When Bill left Photon Sources, there was no beam delivery company that could meet market needs. He set up Laser Mechanisms with a view to supplying optomechanical systems for the materials processing market.’

A beam delivery system is the optomechanical steering equipment that takes the beam from the laser source to the machine that is carrying out the work. ‘There are lots of permutations within this set-up,’ says Ramswami. ‘For example, you might need one beam or multiple beams. You’ll need beam steering equipment, and beam focusing equipment or processing heads in order to cut, weld, heat treat or ablate the material. The demands of the application will dictate which configuration of products to choose.’

Laser Mech’s expertise has led to the development of a modular range of standard products, which covers 70 per cent of the beam delivery product range. The rest comprises custom products for new applications and specific customer needs.

As the markets have changed over the years, so has the Laser Mech product range. ‘The lasers changed and the laser powers increased, so we have always had to keep developing and growing alongside the laser market,’ says Ramswami. ‘We had to follow the lasers, in order to drive the market.’

After a decade of largely US-only sales, in 1990 Laser Mech began a serious move into overseas sales in Europe and beyond, which is when Ramswami first became involved via his time at optics company Laser Power Corporation. His responsibility within Laser Power was for beam delivery, which is how he began representing Laser Mech in Europe. It was a ‘natural development’, according to Ramswami, for him to set up Laser Mech Europe in Belgium in 1998, which is responsible for sales, service and support in Europe, as well as parts of Asia (excluding China, which is dealt with by an office in Shanghai). His first task was to set up a sales network.


Dr. Arvi Ramaswami - Managing Director of Laser Mech

‘By that time, the OEMs were looking for independent sources of beam delivery systems, since it was becoming too expensive for them to do it themselves,’ says Ramswami. ‘So, there was an opportunity for us to explore the OEM market for the first time, rather than just end-users.’

Although CO2 lasers were still dominating the market at that time, other types of lasers began to emerge soon after – such as solid state, Nd:Yag and, later, fibre lasers. ‘Our modular range of products could still be used to cope with these different types of lasers, to a certain extent,’ says Ramswami. ‘But, by the time the fibre lasers came along, we had to redesign the product line to suit the functionality required. Such a development was a necessity in order to follow the laser market.

‘It isn’t just the laser sources that changed. The applications and the laser systems used to address them have also evolved over the years. For example, the advent of fibre lasers in robotic processing and 2D sheet metal processing brought about a new approach to product design.’

‘The advent of fibre lasers has certainly simplified machine building, since beam delivery, as such, virtually disappeared. It was “delivered” via the fibres provided by the laser manufacturer direct to the workpiece. It has meant that there are a number of new customers who are plunging into the laser industry for the first time. These fibre lasers still need processing heads, which we design and supply.’

Today, Laser Mech’s customers are a mixture of OEMs and end-users building their own machines on production lines. Its products end up in a variety of application areas, including sheet metal, automotive-related robotic processing for 3D, welding for construction, micromachining for the medical sector, and all sorts of other materials processing. Its US operation also supplies medical beam delivery systems, via OEM system builders, to hospitals and doctors. As the company has been around for more than 30 years, Laser Mech also does a fair amount of business in spare parts.

Ramswami believes that Laser Mech’s product range is both competitively priced and simpler in design than that of its competitors, benefiting from ease of maintenance. ‘In robotic processing of sheet metal and other materials used in the automotive and aerospace segments, we have a niche where we are performing well,’ he says. ‘We have plans to develop into larger sheet metal applications in the future too.

‘Our philosophy is to keep the design simple, so that customers can service the components and subsystems themselves without excessive specialist assistance. We also strive to keep maintenance costs low and, where service is required, our spare parts are also priced competitively.’

From a quality control perspective, every beam delivery component is rigorously tested, and products for the medical industry adhere to the FDA’s current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP). Laser Mech is registered as a contract manufacturer of medical devices with the FDA/CDRH. In Europe, its medical device products are engineered and tested in conformance with the required European Council Directives.

There are two people in the European office, with a further 60 employees throughout the world. Manufacturing is carried out in the US, with some customisation done locally.

Looking ahead, Ramswami is enthusiastic about the future. ‘The first thing we need to do is ensure our products are visible in all the relevant markets,’ he says. ‘This can be achieved not just by ourselves, but also by the laser manufacturers, who often recommend us to their customers. We’re always listening to our own customers too, so that we get enough feedback in order to develop the next line of products. A lot of what we do is customer-  driven. It is a constant effort to develop the products to the next level.