40 years of lasers at TRUMPF

From the laser-cut filter in your coffee machine to the laser-labeled dashboard in your car and the laser-welded battery in your mobile phone, nowadays lasers are – directly or indirectly – an essential tool in the manufacture of every kind of consumer product. And TRUMPF played a decisive role in this turn of events by being the first company to introduce lasers to many industrial applications. From their very first use in welding mainsprings for watches, through high-quality cutting – of materials ranging from extremely thin foils to sheets of metal centimeters thick – to the employment of ultra-modern direct diode lasers, the industrial laser owes its success in large part to TRUMPF – and it has done so for the last 40 years.

This is how Peter Leibinger, head of TRUMPF’s Laser Technology Division, describes it: “Our goal as a laser manufacturer is to be the first to make cutting-edge technology available for use in manufacturing. We transform the latest research developments into mature products that are suitable for industry.” Mathis Kammüller, head of TRUMPF’s Machine Tool Division and, like Leibinger, a member of the TRUMPF Group’s Management Board, adds: “Laser systems are universal tools that can be used again and again in a huge variety of processes. We offer the right laser in the appropriate machine for each and every application.”

TRUMPF has provided numerous such machines to the growing market for laser processing. The first, in 1979, was a combined punch/laser machine equipped with 500 and 700 watt CO2 lasers that at that time the company still sourced externally. Eight years earlier, watch manufacturer Carl Haas, based in the little town of Schramberg in the Black Forest, had already recognized the suitability of lasers for precision watchmaking applications and built the first solid-state laser. Since Haas is now part of TRUMPF, this marks the beginning of our company’s laser era.

In the decades that followed, both CO2 and solid-state lasers experienced rapid developments. The year 1985 was a milestone for both technologies, since it was then that TRUMPF became a laser manufacturer in its own right with the development and production of the TLF 1000 CO2 laser, and it was also the year that Haas introduced the first laser light cable for industrial use. Just two years later, TRUMPF brought out the TRUMATIC L 3000, the first flatbed laser machine with flying optics, where the machine table stays still while the cutting head “flies” across the sheet metal.

The year 1995 can be regarded as another hallmark. This was when TRUMPF not only expanded its products’ capabilities to include processes such as laser welding and tube cutting, but also for the first time employed a solid-state laser to process thin steel sheets in the TRUMATIC LY 2500 flatbed cutting machine – the forerunner of today’s hugely successful “fiber” machines, which began to conquer the market in 2008 with the integration of the latest TruDisk disk lasers.

Today, there are around 20,000 TRUMPF CO2 lasers and 15,000 of our solid-state lasers in use around the world. While the CO2 lasers continue to dominate the market for flatbed laser machines, there is a growing demand for our range of machines with fiber-guided solid-state lasers, as these lasers complement each other perfectly. Taking an automotive analogy, the CO2 cutting machine is a versatile off-road vehicle, which, thanks to up to 8 kilowatts of power is capable of high-quality steel cutting for sheet thicknesses from 0.5 to more than 30 millimeters – making it ideal for negotiating the rally challenge of quick design changes and short product runs that defines the workload of many suppliers. Solid-state laser machines, on the other hand, are like racing cars in that they can get up to incredible speeds on certain “surfaces”: in this case thin sheet metals – even copper or brass. They can handle thicker materials, too; indeed, their results on mild steel are comparable to those of a CO2 laser. But when used to process stainless steel, cut quality deteriorates relatively quickly – meaning these lasers prefer a racetrack of sheet metal that is no more than 5 millimeters thick.

“Lasers as a tool are still in their youth – even now, 50 years after the first laser was fired up and 40 years since they began to cut their teeth in an industrial setting at TRUMPF,” says Peter Leibinger. “People are still constantly coming up with new applications for both CO2 and solid-state lasers. Some, such as the cutting of glass display covers for mobile phones, benefit from the speed of laser processing, while others, such as the cutting of lightweight materials, would simply not be possible without lasers.”

With sales totaling US $ 2.761 billion (€ 2.024 billion) and 8,550 employees, the TRUMPF Group ranks among the leading manufacturing companies worldwide. The three following business divisions are combined under the umbrella of a holding company: Machine Tools/Power Tools, Laser Technology/Electronics and Medical Technology. Its core business is machine tools for flexible sheet metal processing for punching and forming, laser processing and bending. In the field of industrial lasers and laser systems, the company is the technological leader in the world market. With about 60 subsidiaries and branch offices, the Group is represented in almost every European country, in North and South America as well as in Asia. Production locations can be found in Germany, Austria, China, Czech Republic, France, Great Britain, Mexico, Poland, Switzerland and the USA.

For more information, visit: www.trumpf.com

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