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Content archived on 2024-04-16

Distributed optical (laser) energy systems for flexible manufacturing

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The growing number of large laser facilities and the interest of the car, ship and nuclear industries in remote laser applications has highlighted the problem of the distribution and guidance over long laser beam paths. In these facilities, the output power of a single high power carbon dioxide laser is used at multiple workstations, which may be separated from the laser source by tens or even hundreds of metres. The problem of laser beam stabilization over large distances is especially severe if the workstation is movable (ie if it is in a gantry) resulting in poor quality cutting or welding performance. In order to overcome this problem an automatic beam alignment system was developed. This system automatically adjusts the size and alignment of the laser beam at the workstation and comprises three different parts: a beam mode control device; a beam size control device; a beam alignment control device. All of these devices have been equipped with feedback detectors in order to ensure operation under closed loop control. The design of the system allows operation and control within any laser beam at power levels of up to more than 10 kW. All of the target performance specifications set out in the proposal were achieved: the pointing accuracy was greater than +/- 0.5 mm at a distance of 42 m; the size could be kept smaller than 60 mm all along the beam path under all conditions; the target specification of the diameter stability was +/- 5 % along a beam path of 30 m and could easily be achieved by keeping the size variations below +/- 2 %; mode and power repeatability at the remote location was better than +/- 4 % of the power distribution compared to the reference intensity profile.

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