4 June 2009

Applications Laboratory partnership helps solve demanding laser machining applications

GSI Lasers® designs and manufactures a broad range of industrial laser technologies for use in key manufacturing applications across aerospace, automotive, electronics, medical and the semiconductor industries. They regularly work in partnership with Aerotech for positioning systems and motion controls when proving an application process.

Working closely with major manufacturers, OEMs and systems integrators to provide competitive and often pioneering solutions for laser welding, cutting, drilling and marking, GSI Lasers dominates many market areas and has more than 30 years experience within the industry.

As a fundamental part of its specialist service, GSI Lasers operates an extensive Application Laboratory service at its Rugby-UK headquarters and in Suzhou, China. Both centre’s have a number of individual laboratories equipped with the full range of GSI Lasers and Aerotech positioning mechanics and motion controls which are used to prove and develop the optimum laser process for the customers’ application.

To meet challenging laser machining application requirements as diverse as wafer scribing and nanotube manufacture to welding turbine blades and micro-machining medical stents, GSI Lasers has developed a wide range of products including state-of-the-art Fibre Lasers as well as CW and Pulsed Nd:YAG lasers

GSI Laser has also developed a unique fibre-optic beam delivery system called Luminator™ that allows rapid interchange between laser sources for 3D laser cutting, welding and drilling and is a major benefit for customers who need the flexibility to quickly adapt spot size, focus arrangements and gas options for different materials and laser processes without costly down-time. The ‘Plug-in-Pre-Alignment’ (PIPA) fibre-optic delivery system allows additional laser sources to be remotely located from the workstation area where set-up can be carried out safely and with minimal production schedule interruption.

PIPA capability is also extremely useful for GSI Lasers’ Application Laboratory service, offering the possibility to efficiently evaluate alternative settings for the same laser type or even entirely different laser products on the same workstation and positioning system. OEMs and systems integrators typically call upon the service with a problem material or difficult process requirement and need the consistency of results without having to factor in a totally different workpiece set-up, or positioning system. The service also allows evaluation of a complete system solution and matches the positioning system precision and throughput to the application - ensuring that the delivered laser machining system can deliver the required performance and keep commissioning and capital equipment costs to a minimum.

The Rugby based Applications Laboratory is equipped with a wide range of Aerotech positioning systems that are perfectly suited to laser machining application in terms of precision, throughput and protection. For instance, ALS5000 and ALS5000WB wide bodied linear stages combine direct-drive linear servomotor technology and linear motion guide bearings in a fully sealed design that offers high speed and high precision positioning of large payloads in harsh production environments with low maintenance and high reliability. Similarly ALS1000 series X-Y stages are available for medium sized payloads and use the same linear motor technology and side-sealed design with an internal and fully protected two-axis cable management system that is well proven in laser machining applications. For medium precision, high throughput applications GSI Lasers can offer a specialised rig with ATS1100 series stages which include internally mounted high-performance rotary brushless servomotors with precision ballscrew drives in a side-sealed stage design.

Positioning mechanics also include rugged and durable ACS series direct-drive rotary stages with integral collets for simplicity in workpiece handling. Custom built adapter plates for multi-axis set-ups including vertical Z axis mounting and gantry style configurations are also available. To maintain the high stability required for very high precision positioning applications, GSI Lasers also has Aerotech supplied granite base machine frame systems.

Central to the Applications Laboratory service is the standardisation on Aerotech’s A3200 Automation Platform as the motion and machine controller used for process evaluation. The software only controller for IEEE-1394 (Firewire®) equipped PCs combines deterministic and synchronised motion control for up to 32 servo axes with high performance Ndrive® servo amplifiers and fully integrated modules for HMI, machine vision and soft PLC functions available.

In addition to advanced commands for motion and I/O handling the A3200 includes dedicated commands such as Position Synchronised Output (PSO) that augment application specific performance for laser machining and similar applications. Widely proven, PSO allows the precise, ‘on-the-fly’ synchronisation of the laser’s pulse, power level and firing pattern with the exact position of a multi-axis motion system moving the work piece in a laser machining set-up.

PSO will acquire and analyse the position of each axis using real-time encoder feedback and process a single- or multi-axis vector position linked to one of the A3200 outputs for laser firing control. PSO is straightforward to use and includes a number of simple commands and parameters to allow for various laser output modes and firing requirements as well as compensation for mechanical characteristics such as latency.

The A3200 also includes powerful commands to reduce unwanted system harmonics, increase the system bandwidth and maximise production throughput Programming and software development tools allow the Automation 3200 to be programmed in native RS274 G-code and a software development kit may be used to program with ActiveX based components as well as other languages including C, C++, VisualBasic® and LabviewTM .

For extremely challenging applications, Aerotech’s own applications engineers are available on-site at Rugby to help with system set-up and software programming – working alongside GSI Lasers’ own engineers to ensure success. Aerotech also provides on-site support after full system delivery to ensure that preliminary results are matched and exceeded for the actual application.

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