Considering the speed in which technology evolves these days, we have yet to reach sci-fi levels when it comes to inventions. There are certainly no hoverboards yet (no, those self-balancing scooters don’t count), nor are there replicators or spacecrafts capable of interstellar travel.
Lasers, however, are in a class of their own. They have been integral in the modernization of various industries for more than 50 years. More recently, in 2013, the US Navy deployed the first warship equipped with a solid-state laser weapon. Indeed, lasers have changed the face of various industries for the better, including manufacturing, telecommunications, and medicine. Let’s take a look at some of these improvements.
More Efficient, More Accurate Manufacturing
One of the biggest beneficiaries of laser technology is the industry of manufacturing, largely thanks to laser processing. Common procedures include laser cutting, drilling, engraving, and welding, using high-power lasers that produce extremely fine and accurate results.
Take laser cutters, for example. Most models of laser cutters nowadays are accurate up to 10 micrometers and have a repeatability of up to 5 micrometers. These laser cutters are usually mounted on similarly high-precision linear stages and other motion solutions so that they can be used even in the most delicate products, like medical implants that require utmost precision so that they would work as intended and not harm the patient.
Laser processing also produces cleaner cuts, holes, marks, and welds, resulting in more visually pleasing and stronger products. Lasers can also be used to work with almost any kind of material, whether they be as light as silk or as strong as steel. This lowers the cost of acquiring additional equipment and also reduces the turn-around times of production.
Non-Invasive Medical and Cosmetic Procedures
What’s the image you picture in your mind when you hear the word surgery? Probably be a person lying on an operating table and a team of doctors with a variety of pointy instruments. However, thanks to lasers, there are many surgical procedures that don’t need to be as bloody or as painful. These include laser-assisted angioplasties and vascular anastomosis (e.g., a part of the intestine is cut and the two remaining ends are connected again), photoablation of peptic ulcers and other minor tumors, and even spinal surgeries.
Lasers are also used in various oral and dental surgical procedures that involve soft tissues, eye surgeries that correct both refractive and non-refractive errors, as well as plastic surgeries and various cosmetic procedures like photo rejuvenation of the skin.
Clearer and Faster Communications
If you’re accessing the Internet using a high-speed fiber optic connection, then you are reaping the advantage of laser technology. Compared to soundwaves, lightwaves are much more compact so they can carry more information per second; and because lasers can “see” through obstructions like trees and concrete, laser communications is faster, more efficient, and more coherent.
Laser communication systems are also valuable in military, defense, and avionics applications, especially since they can instantly transmit information with near-zero latency even for thousands of miles. They can also be deployed much more quickly because they are smaller, have lower power requirements, and are more inexpensive overall, considering the equipment and procedures needed prior to installation.
Automotive and Aerospace Innovations
Apart from cutting and welding components together, lasers are also being used in the automotive and aerospace industries to clean and repair parts, making the process more efficient. Laser cleaning also lasts longer and reduces the wear and tear to the components, both resulting in less frequent maintenance and lower costs.
Hydro forming, a cost-effective metal-forming process for materials like steel, stainless steel, copper, and aluminum, has also seen improvements with the help of lasers. In particular, the formed metal parts are trimmed from the die using lasers, resulting in smoother edges that are also easier weld.
Other applications of lasers in automotive and aerospace engineering include drilling, sealing, and painting. Coupled with automation and robotics, this results in faster and more efficient production.
Even with all of these beneficial applications, scientists are conducting even more studies to discover how lasers can further help advance technology and help humankind. Who knows, maybe someday we will finally crack the secret of unlimited energy and lasers will be at its core.