Although laser micromachining is a relatively recent development, it is widely recognized that this technology provides the process of choice and even the technology enabling step in an ever more diverse range of applications. In fact, Laser micromachining is indispensable in many areas of 21st Century manufacturing across a wide range of industries. Laser processing is routinely used for micro-hole drilling, cutting, scribing, 3D machining, selective layer removal, micro-milling, welding, surface treatment, and can be applied to virtually all materials. While lasers hold the key to precision engineering on a mind bogglingly small scale, it’s good old automation that allows this key to unlock the capability on a commercial scale.
As with any manufacturing process, the handling of the components and materials being processed is a significant factor in determining throughput and ultimately cost. With laser micromachining the demands on the automated handling are considerable, often requiring high-speed movement and ultra-high placement precision in order to maintain the tolerances that laser processing can deliver. These demands mean that off-the-shelf automation is often inadequate and a bespoke, fully integrated solution is required.
Meeting these demands requires a specialized supplier with skills in the application of the laser for precision laser micromachining, coupled with experience in the engineering and integration of automated part handling and a real flair for innovative design. The ability to conceive and realize novel ways to manipulate and transport material, which could be anything from a 10µm diameter wire to a large sheet of glass, and to place these for processing with sub-micron tolerances, is key to delivering a viable process. Of course, any novelty must be underpinned by robustness and reliability, as the machine tool is likely to be run by unskilled or semi-skilled operators in a high volume manufacturing environment.
Laser processing as a means of creating highly precise micro features offers a number of additional advantages, firstly the laser beam “tool” doesn’t wear, thus delivering excellent reproducibility and being a non-contact process the machining point isn’t obscured by tooling, making it possible to use on-line inspection to generate valuable process feedback and metrology data.
As an example, machines developed for vapor tap drilling in aerosol valves are also laser marking each component with a unique product code and making key geometric measurements, all in a single location on the same machine and at an operating rate of 1200 parts/minute. These machines will drill holes from 50µm to 500µm, defined in software, for different valve products and merge traditional industrial automation such as hopper and bowl feeders with a high-speed step-and-repeat part indexing system, precision laser drilling and marking, integrated debris management, and on-line optical inspection, in a system that operates 24/7 with minimal changeover times and long service intervals.
At OpTek Systems we bring together a wealth of experience in the delivery of novel precision laser processing in high volume production for customers located around the globe, with a detailed understanding of lasers, optics, and laser/material interaction. This core capability is complemented by comprehensive experience in automation and engineering, on a scale from meters to nanometres, along with vision systems, software, and control. OpTek delivers production laser processing and micromachining in the form of sun-contract services and production line equipment and routinely supports these from concept, through development and on to production ramp-up and full volume production.
About OpTek Systems
OpTek Systems is a global provider of laser processing equipment and sub-contract manufacturing services, with manufacturing, sales, and service facilities in North America, Europe, and Asia.
For further information contact Gideon Foster-Turner:
Tel: +44(0)1235 539182