From attoseconds to zettawatts, the 30th-annual International Congress on Applications of Lasers & Electro-Optics looked once again to the future with another powerful conference packed with cutting-edge research from around the world.
The message of the Laser Institute of America’s premiere conference — which returned to LIA’s hometown of Orlando — was clear: The power of the laser is being leveraged enthusiastically and with great success in everything from micromachining to carbon nanotube-based cancer therapies to railway repair and concrete cutting. The next-generation applications are upon us, as lasers are being used with increasing precision to modify more and more delicate materials or tackle huge manufacturing and repair tasks. They’re not only cutting and etching stents, iPhone components and flexible glass substrates, they’re also repairing mining equipment.
ICALEO, always a collegial gathering of experts sharing knowledge via a full slate of short courses, plenary sessions, hundreds of research papers and posters, a business forum, and numerous spirited informal discussions outside the conference rooms, produced a number of highlights:
• LIA President Elect Dr. Reinhart Poprawe of Fraunhofer ILT who will take the reins from Stephen Capp, CEO of Laserage, in January, announced the election of Klaus Löffler of TRUMPF as 2012 president-elect.
• Dr. Berthold Leibinger earned The Arthur L. Schawlow Award in recognition for steering TRUMPF through innovation after innovation for 50 years. In his 25-minute luncheon address, he talked about visiting several U.S. laser companies in the 1970s in search of lasers that could cut metal, and how that quest led TRUMPF to begin building its own, more powerful lasers.
• LIA Executive Director Peter Baker honored IPG’s Bill Shiner as the father of the new Lasers for Manufacturing Event, a unique event held for the first time in Sept. 26-27 in Schaumburg, Ill.
• A global industry economic report by past President David Belforte indicated the laser world is continuing to bounce back with a vengeance since the 2008 recession.
• A spirited discussion of developments and opportunities in the so-called BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China.
• 140 first-time attendees were among the more than 500 total attendees and 56 vendors (including sponsors) from 26 countries.
• 227 presentations in addition to nine plenary sessions that addressed revolutionary technologies like quantum cascade lasers, dressed photons, novel beam splitters, and advances in micro and nano structuring.
Realizing LIA’s Mission
The annual ICALEO awards luncheon offered LIA’s leaders a chance to reflect on the year’s successes and thank members at all levels for their contributions.
“Team LIA is everybody … everybody in this room: all the staff, all the speakers, all the members, all the board people, everybody,” Baker enthused during the awards luncheon. “The trick is we work together to make something happen that we need. … We’ve had exciting times, we’re coming out of a difficult period, but we’re healthy, we’re meeting needs and we’re carrying out our mission.”
Capp echoed that sentiment in passing the reins: “As president of the LIA this past year, it has been a pleasure working with other members of the executive committee and the board, and it has also been a privilege working with Peter and his fine staff.”
ICALEO’s success was reflected in the reactions of veteran and new attendees alike. “(ICALEO) is a good presentation,” Bernhard Steiger of Germany’s Hochschule Mittweida said of his first visit to the conference. “The session about thermal lensing was very good. We look for different presentations around the world, and this was very new.”
At his third ICALEO, Lino Costa of the Center for Laser Applications at the University of Tennessee noted that “the highlights this year are in the areas of medical devices and photovoltaics. I’m working on microfluidics for biological applications; I’m mostly interested in the femtosecond machining. This (ICALEO) is the one I’ve liked most so far.”
The Meat of the Matter
With lasers becoming faster and more powerful, the range of intricate manufacturing applications is wide open, as the more than 200 ICALEO sessions demonstrated. Researchers shared the results of their efforts to innovate laser processes in such areas as:
• Femtosecond laser patterning of Mo thin film on flexible substrate for CIGS solar cells .
• Scribing of flexible glass substrates, which are vital to smart phones and tablets and can pave the way toward “e-paper.”
• Stabilizing copper welding using power-modulated green and infrared beams.
• Drilling with diode-pumped fiber and disc lasers with scalable output power as an alternative to flash lamp-pumped Nd:YAG lasers.
• Cutting and welding of carbon and glass fiber reinforced thermoplastic composites.
• Customized trepanning systems capable of micro machining metal and ceramic samples up to 1 mm thick and creating tapered through-holes with entrance diameters of 65 to 1,000 micrometers.
The plenary sessions offered two particularly noteworthy presentations.
In the opening plenary session, Dr. Hongjie Dai of Stanford University detailed novel prospects for carbon nanoscience, including a cancer-fighting procedure that uses lasers to heat nanotubes inserted into tumors. A handheld laser with a 3 cm beam passes near-infrared light through cells, preserving the healthy ones but killing the cancerous ones by heating the nanotubes.
At ICALEO’s end, Dr. Minlin Zhong of Tsinghua University detailed his seven visions for where laser manufacturing is headed, including greater understanding of how lasers and materials interact; how faster and more powerful units will reduce heat-affected zones and how lasers will be able to process “non-processible” materials and allow processing beyond current thickness limits.
“What I was surprised about while sorting out the papers this year (was that) the overall quality was very good,” noted Cencorp’s Henrikki Pantsar, chairman of the Laser Microprocessing Conference. That sentiment was shared by Precitec’s Markus Kogel-Hollacher, who raved, “As a judge of the student paper again this year, I really know the quality of the student papers, which were tremendously great.”
Congress General Chair Kunihiko Washio of Tokyo’s Paradism Laser Research was spotted at numerous presentations throughout ICALEO. “ICALEO has lived up to its reputation,” he asserted. “There is much progress on high peak-power, short-pulse lasers and the high-brightness fiber lasers, and also there are many new tactics using beam shaping or multiplexing.”
The Economic Outlook
This year, ICALEO’s business forum, moderated again by co-chairs Neil Ball of Directed Light Inc. and Sri Venkat of Coherent, focused on developments and opportunities in the so-called BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China. Prior to the panel discussion, Belforte, editor-in-chief of Industrial Laser Solutions, provided detailed industry figures from his annual review (figures that will go through one more round of revision before publication in January). Asia continues to dominate the market in terms of laser system installations, he said, noting that Japan and East Asia together account for 47 percent. He also noted the significant growth in the market for fiber lasers used for marking, engraving, and metal processing. Overall, he noted, global laser revenues were up about 13 percent to $1.828 billion, and laser system revenues were up about 15 percent to $7.017 billion.
“Marking and engraving traditionally has been the growth engine for the sale of lasers for the past 10 years or more,” Belforte reported. “It’s always been double-digit growth — to the order of 20 percent per year sometimes. Semiconductor and microprocessing were basically the only two industries that made it through the recession in reasonable shape; semiconductor came out of the recession in terrific shape. That’s the reason, along with microprocessing — which is industries like medical, surgical instruments, microelectronics — that those businesses snapped back quickly.”
During the panel discussion, Shiner, vice president of industrial markets for IPG Photonics, noted that IPG’s complete product line is manufactured in Russia, making that nation a major player on the horizon. “In the U.S. there’s an awful lot of issues and export problems we face; it’s very difficult to ship a laser from the United States because of our Commerce Department, the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy we have to go through,” he went on to say. “I’d like to level the playing field because I think it hurts American companies.”
Panelist Jyoti Mazumder of The University of Michigan’s CLAIM noted that in 2009, 250 lasers were sold to India’s diamond industry because the lasers can clean the gems. He also told of an agent who sold 45 rapid-prototyping systems in India in the past three years. “Another driving force (in India) is that when I graduated in the ‘70s, the total number of engineers produced in India was 32,000; last year there were half a million,” he pointed out.
Despite all the promising signs, panelist Wenwu Zhang of GE wants more growth.
“I don’t think laser has performed to its full potential, he said. “We celebrated the 50th anniversary last year but the global laser market is less than $8 billion. To me that’s really, really small. Compare that with other businesses, especially when you consider the talent pool in this business and the market volume of this business. It’s not proportionate. There’s something wrong with the overall strategy in this business. The production chain is too long, and the overall system cost is not optimized. We should cut that to one-fifth or even one-tenth to make this technology really fly. I hope I can help in that regard.”
As ICALEO 2011 wound down, many attendees made a point to stop and share a handshake and fond farewell with Baker, who as master of ceremonies presided over numerous meetings focusing on next year’s slate of LIA events.
“We had the wrapup meeting this morning, consisting of past chairs and people who’ve been coming to ICALEO for 10 or 20 years,” he said. “The feedback from them was that (this year’s ICALEO) was a major success, the quality of papers is high and the networking events were very successful. We’re maintaining our high plateau of quality.”
For Pantsar, ICALEO “is always the highlight of the year. The whole conference is a highlight; it’s one of the conferences that I enjoy the most because there’s the best networking here. You know so many people here and you spend as much time outside the conference room speaking to people as you do listening to the presentations. In that aspect it’s the best conference there is.” Or as Laser Materials Processing Conference chair Stefan Kaierle of Fraunhofer ILT summed up, (ICALEO) is like a big family.”
From the welcome celebration to the president’s and vendor receptions to the closing plenaries, “ICALEO is like the golden thread that goes through the laser industry that pulls us all together; it really has made our industry,” Shiner said. “I always pose the question, ‘What if there wasn’t an ICALEO?’ At the other shows you don’t have the opportunity in one venue to get together and meet the people. I can grab Bill O’Neill from Cambridge University, and I’m going to drag him over to Rolls-Royce; you can’t do that any other place.”
Perhaps Schawlow Award winner Leibinger summed ICALEO up best:
“The variety of uses of the laser for different processes shows the unbelievable flexibility of this tool. We are still at the beginning. I envy all the young people here (who are) able to work in such a challenging field, with its great opportunities. It’s wonderful to be able to work in this field. I thank the Laser Institute of America for presenting this platform to the people who have the privilege to attend this meeting. It is wonderful to be able to contribute to the development of the technology in this field.”
ICALEO 2012 will return to Anaheim, California, from Sept. 23-27. For updates on sponsorship opportunities and the educational program, or to register to attend, visit: www.icaleo.org