Fiber, CO2, and Nd:YAG Laser Experts
Back in the early sixties, American engineer and physicist Theodore Harold ‘Ted’ Maiman was granted U.S. patent 3,353,115 for his invention described as “a device capable of generating or amplifying coherent light.” In industries such as aerospace and the automotive sector, lasers have since proven themselves time and time again as being extremely efficient and time-saving. The use of highly-focused laser beams is growing in popularity, and they are used to precisely cut materials of various types and thicknesses, such as steel, copper, plastics, ceramics, and more.
In many ways, the history and evolution of lasers parallel that of Convergent Photonics, known worldwide as the preeminent supplier of high-quality laser solutions for the world’s machine tool industry.
The origins of Convergent Photonics go back to 1961, and it has steadily expanded since the beginning. Palo Alto, California-based Coherent Radiation introduced its carbon dioxide (CO2 ) product line in 1966. Soon after demonstrating its CO2 laser that year at the Westcon exhibition, the company attracted its first client for the laser, American aviation and aerospace giant Boeing, which used the new product to cut and weld titanium.
Coherent continued to evolve and bought the company that was to become its industrial arm. In 1984, following an investment made by U.S. multinational conglomerate General Electric, the company developed the next generation of laser, the neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet, better known as the Nd:YAG, a crystal used in solid-state lasers as a lasing medium. The business, now producing both Nd:YAG industrial lasers and CO2 lasers, was sold in 1993 to Transtec and required to change its name. The laser side of the company was then called Convergent Energy.
Other name changes were to follow. Convergent Energy was renamed Convergent Lasers, which was sold to Prima Industrie and became part of Prima Electro in 2011. In late 2014, it was announced that Convergent would now be known as Convergent Photonics, “a strategic branding choice to communicate its new dynamic outlook and further underscoring the company’s drive to offer high reliability, innovative solutions to the marketplace,” according to the business.
“With this new identity, Convergent Photonics presents itself as a global supplier of photonics technologies and a myriad of high power industrial laser sources for materials processing. This transition heralds a new beginning for Convergent Photonics as it becomes a reliable international partner and provider to all leading OEMs, offering unparalleled customer satisfaction, worldwide,” states the company.
Convergent Photonics reputation is second to none. In just the last twenty-five years alone, the company has deployed over six thousand high-powered lasers around the globe. The company’s research and development team, engineers, production, finance, and management staff are committed to further developing customized and cost-effective laser solutions with its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners. It has a U.S.-based staff of fifty-five that is set to go up to sixty by the end of the year and a presence in Italy and China.
Convergent Photonics state-of-the-art lasers are used for a range of applications, such as sheet metal cutting, drilling, and welding. “Automotive and aerospace are the main drivers,” says Operations Manager Michele Ronco, who has been with the company for eleven years. Ronco started as a quality engineer, later moving on to quality manager, then quality and manufacturing engineering manager before becoming operations manager a year and a half ago.
Convergent Photonics is known largely for its CO2 lasers and Nd:YAG lasers but has seen increased demand for fiber lasers in recent years. These boast a number of advantages, including high output power, high optical quality, tremendous reliability, faster cutting speeds and cleaner-cut edges. Fiber lasers are used in material processing and cutting, engraving, and marking, fiber lasers are also part of telecommunications, medicine, spectroscopy – the interactions between matter, and electromagnetic radiation – and other areas.
Up until 2014, CO2 was the primary type of laser produced, says Ronco. Since that time, industry has been moving more towards fiber laser in sheet metal cutting and welding applications, as these lasers are essentially maintenance-free and more efficient, consuming less electricity to run than other laser systems. Along with superior cutting performance and a lower operating cost, fiber lasers are also more versatile and can be integrated into different machine configurations.
To meet demand for fiber lasers, the company began renovating and investing in its production floor, moving from mainly CO2 production to fiber laser production and change the way it is building lasers. In the beginning, the focus was in the 3kW to 4 kW range; now, the shift in the market is from 4kW to 6 kW.
Convergent Photonics is changing its manufacturing processes to support production of fiber lasers. It has also introduced a new clean room, which will increase the company’s production capacity by up to forty percent. “The bulk of the renovations have been this year,” says Ronco. “I would say we are fifty percent complete and should be done by the end of 2018.”
Along with fiber lasers, additive manufacturing for its laser products is another area for growth. Additive manufacturing has been around for about three decades and is better-known as 3D printing. It also includes direct digital manufacturing or DDM for short. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods which have existed for centuries and involve materials like metal being shaped, cut, or carved into another form, additive manufacturing is the opposite, where layers are added through technology to create an object.
“Additive manufacturing will be the next big thing,” states Ronco. “If you think about a laser printer instead of an inkjet, ink is on the paper, and the laser sticks ink to the paper. You use metal or plastic powder – in our case, it would be mainly metal – and with the laser, you have different types of applications. Basically, layer by layer, you can create an object in 3D. Instead of removing material from a block, it would be creating an object. It is basically 3D printing with metal.”
Among additive manufacturing’s other advantages is that it allows for shapes which cannot be produced in one piece through conventional manufacturing methods to be made in a single piece, including shapes with hollow centers.
When working alongside customers, Convergent Photonics sees itself more as a partner, collaborating on laser designs and their application. As a vertically-integrated company, Convergent is able to be cost-competitive, offers extensive training, and provide clients with the option of fully-functional, stand-alone, turnkey lasers, or modules and kits which can then be integrated into customized packages.
The company is wholly-owned by Prima Industrie – which uses the majority of the lasers manufactured – and also sells worldwide to some third parties through distributors, including one in South Korea. “They are a big sales channel for us, along with tradeshows such as Fabtech,” says Ronco of the company, which looks forward to increasing its production capacity in the coming months, and transforming the company from CO2 to fiber lasers. “We are a strong player in the CO2 and Nd:YAG laser industry, and we want to make customers aware we have a strong position in the fiber laser market as well.”