The History of Laser Cutting Technology
While people often think laser cutting is a new, modern technology — it isn’t necessarily a new concept. In fact, the use of lasers in manufacturing began with the ideas of physicist Max Planck in 1900, when he published his findings regarding the connection between radiation frequency and energy. These findings inspired Albert Einstein’s theories on the concept of stimulated emission, and the principle of harnessing the energy produced by light.
Although Einstein published his ideas in 1917, it wasn’t until much later — in the late 1940’s — that his theories came to life, through the innovations of engineers searching for ways to harness the energy of the “photoelectric effect.” From these first explorations into the world of light and lasers, emerged the first working laser, created by Theodore H Maiman in 1960.
Let’s take a look at how the laser arrived on the manufacturing floor, and how it has affected modern production.
What is Laser Cutting?
Material cutting is one of the most crucial steps in completing a project in manufacturing, or fabrication. The need for accuracy, speed, and efficiency is what prompted the development of laser technology for the industry.
Lasers are high-powered beams of light that can cut through various materials. Today, these machines are generally controlled by computers, and used to melt, vaporize, or burn through components according to a pre-set path, or set of instructions. Once little more than science fiction, laser cutting has proven to be one of the most versatile inventions of the modern world.
History of Laser Cutting
The first laser designed for the purpose of production was introduced by Western Electric in 1965. A leader in the manufacturing and electrical engineering spaces, this company has been a trailblazer in the industry for years, contributing to advanced forms of production. Western Electric began using lasers as a way of drilling holes into diamond dies in 1965, and the technology took off from there.
By May of 1967 (just two years later), a German scientist named Peter Houldcroft had begun developing his own laser-cutting nozzle. This nozzle used a CO2 laser beam and oxygen assist-gas to experiment with industrial cutting. Thanks to these experiments, Houldcroft became the first person to use laser cutting to cut through a 1mm steel sheet. Western Electric quickly jumped on these advancements, making improvements to Houldcroft’s technology — soon enough, lasers were being sold to companies for industrial applications.
In 1969, the Boeing company released a paper discussing the possibilities of using laser cutting on harder materials — such as ceramic and titanium. The paper suggested that, with significant development, laser cutting could become an effective tool for industrial cutting. This groundbreaking paper prompted many companies to begin evaluating the possibilities of laser cutting.
As techniques advanced during the 1990’s, new possibilities emerged in the technique of laser sintering, and the first SteroLithography Apparatus, which allowed companies to create quick prototypes for future technology. By the time the millennium arrived, there were numerous techniques and methods available, raising the standards in laser cutting.
Laser Cutting as We Know It Today
At the beginning of the century, many industries worried that laser systems didn’t have the precision required for complicated designs — those issues are now a thing of the past.
Today’s laser cutting technologies are often integrated with computer-based programming systems, allowing for complete control when cutting various materials. Due to these precise solutions, lasers can now create various shapes and components without distortion, making them ideal for a number of modern industries. Thanks to its non-contact technology, laser machining is a valuable tool in the processing and manufacturing industries. Through its evolution, laser technology has allowed the world of manufacturing to achieve a level of speed and accuracy that Einstein himself may not have imagined — and with engineers constantly working on advancements, who knows where we’ll end up next.
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