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Definition: lasers with a doped fiber as gain medium, or (sometimes) just lasers where most of the laser resonator

is made of fibers Fiber lasers are usually meant to be lasers with optical fibers as gain media, although some lasers with a semiconductor gain medium (a semiconductor optical amplifier) and a fiber resonator have also been called fiber lasers (or semiconductor fiber lasers). In most cases, the gain medium is a fiber doped with rare earth ions such as erbium (Er3+), neodymium (Nd3+), ytterbium (Yb3+), thulium (Tm3+), or praseodymium (Pr3+), and one or several laser diodes are used for pumping ( diode pumping).

Figure 1: Setup of a simple fiber laser. Pump light is launched from the left-hand side through a dichroic mirror into the core of the doped fiber. The generated laser light is extracted on the right-hand side.

Fiber Laser Resonators

In order to form a laser resonator with fibers, one either needs some kind of reflector (mirror) to form a linear resonator, or one builds a fiber ring laser. Various types of mirrors are used in linear fiber laser resonators:

Figure 2: A simple erbium-doped femtosecond laser, where the Fresnel reflection from a fiber end is used for output coupling.

In simple laboratory setups, ordinary dielectric mirrors can be butted to the perpendicularly cleaved fiber ends, as shown in Figure 1. This approach, however, is not very practical for mass fabrication and not very durable either. The Fresnel reflection from a bare fiber end face is often sufficient for the output coupler of a fiber laser. Figure 2 shows an example.

It is also possible to deposit dielectric coatings directly on fiber ends, usually with some evaporation method. Such coatings can be used to realize reflectivities in a wide range. For commercial products, it is common to use fiber Bragg gratings, made either directly in the doped fiber, or in an undoped fiber which is spliced to the active fiber. Figure 3 shows a distributed Bragg reflector laser (DBR laser) with two fiber gratings, but there are also distributed feedback lasers with a single grating in doped fiber, with a phase shift in the middle.

Figure 3: Short DBR fiber laser for narrow-linewidth emission.

Figure 4: End reflector with lens and mirror.

A better power-handling capability is achieved by collimating the light exiting the fiber with a lens and reflecting it back with a dielectric mirror (Figure 4). The intensities on the mirror are then greatly reduced due to the much larger beam area. However, slight misalignment can cause substantial reflection losses, and the additional Fresnel reflection at the fiber end can introduce filter effects and the like. The latter effects can be suppressed by using angle-cleaved fiber ends, which however introduce polarization-dependent losses.

Figure 5: Fiber loop mirror.

Another option is to form a fiber loop mirror (Figure 5), based on a fiber coupler (e.g. with 50:50 splitting ratio) and some piece of passive fiber.

Most fiber lasers are pumped with one or several fiber-coupled diode lasers. The pump light may be coupled directly into the core, or in high-power into a larger pump cladding ( double-clad fibers), as discussed below in more detail. There are many different kinds of fiber lasers, some of which are discussed in the following.

High-power Fiber Lasers

Whereas the first fiber lasers could deliver only a few milliwatts of output power, there are now high-power fiber lasers with output powers of hundreds of watts, sometimes even several kilowatts from a single fiber. This potential arises from a high surface-to-volume ratio (avoiding

excessive heating) and the guiding effect, which avoids thermo-optical problems even under conditions of significant heating. See the article on high-power fiber lasers and amplifiers for more details.

Upconversion Fiber Lasers

Figure 6: Level scheme of thulium (Tm3+) ions in ZBLAN fiber, showing how excitation with an 1140-nm laser can lead to blue fluorescence and laser emission. The fiber laser concept is most suitable for the realization of upconversion lasers, as these often have to operate on relatively difficult laser transitions, requiring high pump intensities. In a fiber laser, such high pump intensities can be easily maintained over a long length, so that the gain efficiency achievable often makes it easy to operate even on low-gain transitions. In most cases, silica glass is not suitable for upconversion fiber lasers, because the upconversion scheme requires relatively long lifetimes of intermediate electronic levels, and such lifetimes are often very small in silica fibers due to the relatively large phonon energy of silica glass ( multi-phonon transitions). Therefore, one mostly uses certain heavy-metal fluoride fibers such as ZBLAN (a fluorozirconate) with low phonon energies. The probably most popular upconversion fiber lasers are based on thulium-doped fibers for blue light generation (Figure 6), praseodymium-doped lasers (possibly with ytterbium codoping) for red, orange, green or blue output, and green erbium-doped lasers. See the article on upconversion lasers for more details.

Narrow-linewidth Fiber Lasers

Fiber lasers can be constructed to operate on a single longitudinal mode ( single-frequency lasers, single-mode operation) with a very narrow linewidth of a few kilohertz or even below 1 kHz. In order to achieve long-term stable single-frequency operation without excessive

requirements concerning temperature stability, one usually has to keep the laser resonator relatively short (e.g. of the order of 5 cm), even though a longer resonator would in principle allow for even lower phase noise and a correspondingly smaller linewidth. The fiber ends have narrow-bandwidth fiber Bragg gratings ( distributed Bragg reflector lasers, DBR fiber lasers), selecting a single resonator mode. Typical output powers are a few milliwatts to some tens of milliwatts, although single-frequency fiber lasers with up to roughly 1 W output power have also been demonstrated. An extreme form is the distributed-feedback laser (DFB laser), where the whole laser resonator is contained in a fiber Bragg grating with a phase shift in the middle. Here, the resonator is fairly short, which can compromise the output power and linewidth, but single-frequency operation is very stable. Of course, further amplification to much higher power levels in a fiber amplifier is possible.

Q-switched Fiber Lasers

Figure 7: Simple Q-switched fiber laser. The setup looks exactly the same as that of a modelocked laser as shown above (Figure 2), but the SESAM parameters are different. With various methods of active or passive Q switching, fiber lasers can be used for generating pulses with durations which are typically between tens and hundreds of nanoseconds (see e.g. Fig. 7). The pulse energy achievable with large mode area fibers can be several millijoules, in extreme cases tens of millijoules, and is essentially limited by the saturation energy (even for large mode area fibers) and by the damage threshold (the latter particularly for shorter pulses). All-fiber setups (not containing any free-space optics) are quite limited in terms of the achievable pulse energy, as they can normally not be realized with large mode area fibers and effective Q switches. As fiber lasers typically have relatively long resonators (particularly for high-power lasers based on double-clad fibers), the pulse durations tend to be longer than those of bulk lasers, despite the large gain. In addition, the high gain can lead to a complicated temporal sub-structure with multiple sharp spikes.

Mode-locked Fiber Lasers

Figure 8: Figure-of-eight laser setup, as explained more in detail in the article on mode-locked fiber lasers. More sophisticated resonator setups are used particularly for mode-locked fiber lasers (ultrafast fiber lasers), generating picosecond or femtosecond pulses. Here, the laser resonator may contain an active modulator or some kind of saturable absorber. An artificial saturable absorber can be constructed using the effect of nonlinear polarization rotation, or a nonlinear fiber loop mirror. A nonlinear loop mirror is used e.g. in a figure-of-eight laser, as shown in Figure 8, where there is a main resonator on the left-hand side and a nonlinear fiber loop, which does the amplification, shaping and stabilization of a circulating ultrashort pulse. Particularly for harmonic mode locking, additional means may be used, such as subcavities acting as optical filters. For more details on ultrafast fiber lasers, see the article on mode-locked fiber lasers.

Raman Fiber Lasers

A special type of fiber lasers are fiber Raman lasers, relying on Raman gain associated with the fiber nonlinearity. Such lasers usually use relatively long fibers, sometimes of a type with increased nonlinearity, and typical pump powers of the order of 1 W. With several nested pairs of fiber Bragg gratings, the Raman conversion can be done in several steps, bridging hundreds of nanometers between the pump and output wavelength. Raman fiber lasers can e.g. be pumped in the 1-m region and generate 1.4-m light as required for pumping 1.5-m erbium-doped fiber amplifiers.

Fiber Lasers with Semiconductor Optical Amplifiers

There are some lasers which have a semiconductor optical amplifier (SOA) as the gain medium in a resonator made of fibers. Even though the actual laser process does not occur in a fiber, such fibers are sometimes called fiber lasers. They typically emit relatively small optical powers of a few milliwatts or even less. Sometimes they exploit the very different properties of the semiconductor gain medium, as compared with a rare-earth-doped fiber, in particular the much smaller saturation energy and upper-state lifetime. Rather than only generating coherent light,

such lasers can be used for information processing in optical fiber communications systems for example the wavelength conversion of data channels based on cross-saturation effects.

Special Attractions of Fibers as Laser Gain Media

As fibers can be coiled and the light propagating in fibers is well shielded from the environment (e.g. concerning dust), fiber lasers can have a compact and rugged setup, provided that the whole laser resonator is built only with fiber components (all-fiber setup) such as fiber Bragg gratings and fiber couplers (i.e., avoiding free-space optics and any requirement for alignment). Fiber gain media have a large gain bandwidth due to strongly broadened laser transitions in glasses, permitting wide wavelength tuning ranges and/or the generation of ultrashort pulses. Also, fiber lasers have broad spectral regions with good pump absorption, making the exact pump wavelength uncritical, so that temperature stabilization of the pump diodes is usually not necessary. Diffraction-limited beam quality is easily obtained when single-mode fibers are used, and sometimes also with slightly multimode fibers. Due to the high gain efficiency of doped fibers, fiber lasers have the potential to operate with very small pump powers. Also, it is possible to obtain very high power efficiencies. In recent years, the potential for very high output powers (several kilowatts with double-clad fibers) has been convincingly demonstrated (see above). Again due to the guidance, which allows high pump intensities to be applied over long lengths, fiber lasers can be operated even on very difficult laser transitions (e.g. of upconversion lasers).

On the other hand, fiber lasers can suffer from various problems:

When the pump light has to be launched from free space into a single-mode core, the alignment is critical. This problem can be eliminated by using fiber-coupled pump diodes. Most fibers exhibit a complicated temperature-dependent polarization evolution, unless polarization-maintaining fibers or Faraday rotators are used. Such measures, however, are normally not compatible with nonlinear polarization rotation mode locking. Nonlinear effects often limit the performance, e.g. in terms of powers achievable in singlefrequency operation or the pulse quality of mode-locked lasers. For example, Kelly sidebands are often seen, whereas mode-locked bulk lasers rarely exhibit this effect. At high powers, there is a risk of fiber damage even below the actual damage threshold of the material ( fiber fuse). Fibers have a limited gain and pump absorption per unit length, making it difficult to realize very short resonators e.g. for single-frequency lasers or for multi-gigahertz mode-locked lasers. However, significant progress has been made in this direction recently via the development of very highly doped fibers, usually made from phosphate glass.

Also note that fiber lasers are in many cases substantially more difficult to design than bulk lasers. This results from very different reasons, including strong saturation effects caused by the high optical intensities, the quasi-three-level behavior of nearly all fiber laser transitions, and the complicated pulse formation mechanisms in mode-locked fiber lasers. As a result, the laser development project can be more costly.

The article on fiber lasers versus bulk lasers compares the strengths and weaknesses of fiber and bulk lasers. See also the article on power scaling of lasers, containing thoughts on high-power fiber devices.
Introduction to Fiber Lasers and their Applications

Dr Mark Richmond
Product Manager JK Fiber Lasers

Dr Mo Naeem
Worldwide Applications Expert (GSI Group, Laser Division, Cosford Lane, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV21 1QN, UK)

There has been a lot of interest in recent months about the economic benefits of Fiber Lasers in many applications with simultaneous opportunities for improved processing. This article aims to give an introduction to the Fiber Laser in comparison to more traditional laser sources used for materials processing, and to highlight the benefits they can bring to industrial applications. Although most of the interest in Fiber Lasers has been generated from developments over the past few years, Fiber Lasers were first invented in the very early days of the Lasers history. In 1964 a flashlamp pumped Fiber Laser was demonstrated, where the fiber was coiled up around a flashlamp. More recently the double clad fibre structure enabled a diode pumped laser to be demonstrated about 1990. This was the fore-runner of the Fiber Lasers products we see today. Recent Global Market reviews have shown total sales in 2007 for Fiber Lasers at $278 million (up 39% on 2006), with a prediction of another 16% growth in 2008 to 323 million. Materials Processing (including metals working, micro processing and marking) is the major application area for Fiber Lasers, accounting for 68% of Sales. One report predicts a doubling of Fiber Laser sales by 2011. Interestingly the Fiber Laser is beginning to penetrate the flat sheet metal cutting sector which has long been the total preserve of CO2 lasers. Only 50 systems were installed for this application in 2007 (compared to nearly 6000 CO2 lasers), but it does indicate how the Fiber Laser is penetrating mature laser metal processing applications and shows that the transition from its scientific and low power telecoms heritage into the metal fabrication arena is real and will only strengthen in the coming years.

Laser Structure

Figure 1: Basic Components of a Laser Figure 1 shows the basic component comprising a laser. These are the Gain Medium that is capable of producing light when the Excitation Energy is applied to it. The Front and Rear mirrors define the resonator, which ensure the light reflects back and forth through the Gain Medium, thus gaining in intensity and reducing in angular spread. The fraction of the light which passes through the partially transmitting Front Mirror becomes the useful Laser Beam. For a CO2 laser the gain medium is a mixture of gases (mainly Helium, Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide) and the excitation energy comes from the electrical discharge through the gas. The laser beam wavelength is 10.6m. For a Solid State Laser, the gain medium will typically be a rod of YAG (Yttrium Aluminium Garnate) doped with about 1% Nd (Neodymium) atoms, and the excitation energy will be provided by the broadband light from a pulsed flashlamp of continuous arc lamp. The laser beam wavelength is 1.064m. For a Fiber Laser the gain medium is an Ytterbium doped glass fibre, with the excitation energy being provided by laser diodes, operating around 950nm, coupled by various schemes into the core of the doped fibre. The laser beam wavelength is typically in range 1.07m to 1.09m. Obviously the physical dimensions of the gain medium for the Fiber Laser are very different from other laser types. A Nd:YAG rod might be 200mm, a CO2 discharge around 2m, but the gain fiber in a Fiber Laser will be 10s of metres long. The reflectors used in the Fiber Laser are physically very different from traditional lasers. Typically the mirror will be formed from a dielectric coating on substrate; which will be transmissive at the laser wavelength for the output coupler. For the Fiber Laser, Bragg Gratings written into the core of a fibre are used. These Fibre Bragg Gratings (FBGs) consist of periodic refractive index variations. The longitudinal period of the grating determines the wavelength of the reflected light, and the magnitude of the variation controls the reflected percentage. Thus is it possible to manufacture the complete Fiber Laser so that the light is contained within fibre components all right up to the beam delivery point at the workpiece. Figure 2 is a schematic of a typical Fiber Laser construction.

Figure 2: Fiber Laser Schematic

Fiber Laser Advantages

Fiber Lasers bring many advantages into the industrial laser processing arena as a consequence of their unique design. 1) Increased flexibility in processing set-up. The Beam quality of a laser is defined by its M2 value, which is determined by wavelength, beam waist radius and far-field divergence, The highest beam quality lasers will have M2 close to 1. This is sometimes referred to as diffraction limited performance, and is a fundamental physical limit. The long thin gain media of Fiber Lasers lend themselves to producing these high quality beams. Commercially available lasers are available up to a few kW with these high quality beams. Such beams can be focussed to a very small spot on the workpiece, giving very high power density, which often leads to faster processing. They offer longer focal length (working distance) and greater depth of focus (work-piece positioning tolerance) than competing technologies. For a fixed focal length and focus spot size, the beam diameter as delivered directly from the laser can be smaller. This allows the use of cheaper, lighter process optics that are easier to manoeuvre about the work-piece. Thus the high beam quality gives a much larger area of parameter space in which to optimise the optical parameters for a particular process. Alternatively, the system can be optimised to achieve the smallest focal-spot diameter, making it possible to process materials in much finer detail than with other lasers. Medical angioplasty stents and solder screen have been manufactured using this property of the Fiber Laser. 2) Reduced Cost of Ownership The high efficiency of the pump source and of extraction from the gain medium produces a very high wall plug efficiency for the laser, typically around 25-30%. This leads to reduced electrical supply requirements lower operating costs, a compact laser head and PSU design and reduced cooling requirements with air-cooled possible up to 300W. Compared to other solid state lasers fewer mechanical components are needed in the laser construction. This leads to significantly lower cost base than equivalent power SSL. Indications are that

as the pump laser diode prices continue to decrease with increasing manufacturing volumes, that the Fiber Laser will also become directly cost competitive with kW class CO2 lasers as used in many flat-bed cutting applications. 3) High Uptime levels The laser diode pump sources used for many commercial Fiber Lasers use technology developed from the optical fibre telecommunications industry and have extremely high, proven reliability. This has lead to Fiber Laser products currently in the market offering 100,000 hours MTBF for their pump sources. This equates to over 11 years operation. Such products have demonstrated over 40,000 hours operation already and are still in use today. Thus the time and cost to replace any laser diodes is not an issue over the normal lifetime of industrial technology tools. In addition the routine maintenance requirements are very low. The all fibre construction means that no alignment of resonator or beam delivery optics are required. The sealed nature of the beam path within the fibre, means that damage due to contamination of optical surfaces will not be an issue. 4) Ease of Beam delivery As the light is generated in the fiber, it can easily be delivered to the workpiece within a fibre. This provides a very stable set-up, and removes the issues of having to maintain alignment on a number of beam delivery mirrors, or any issues of coupling the laser beam into a beam delivery fibre. So the advantages of the Fiber Laser for Industrial applications can be summarised as follows: Existing Advantages of Fiber Lasers: Good reliability & lifetime High stability of laser output leading to consistency of processing Small size of overall unit Generally longer Warranty than standard lasers. Option of Air Cooled or Water Cooled up to a few hundred Watts output power. Lower price than equivalent power traditional laser.

Advantages of emerging industrial Fiber Lasers: Integrated damage protection against backreflection issues Control software offering full functionality and ability to be integrated into system level controllers. Fault diagnostics for improved Warning or Alarm identification End of life warning for tracking diode lifetimes Reliable, stable and linear Power Monitor integrated to laser. Single sourcing for laser and Process Tools (cutting head, welding head or galvanometer based scanners)

Ability to increase processing performance of reflective materials through periodic enhancements to laser peak power.

Issues with Fiber Lasers

High-power fiber devices for material processing can be sensitive to optical feedback, which in some cases can lead to damage of the laser components. An optical isolator is used in these situations for preventing backreflected light from reaching the fiber, but as the high-power fiber laser output is usually unpolarised, at least two high-power Faraday rotators and two polarisers are required, all of which increase the cost of the system. In some cases an isolator must be avoided for cost or other reasons. The use then has to ensure that back-reflections are avoided, for instance by never allowing for normal incidence on a workpiece. This, however, can restrict the flexibility and possibly the processing quality. By applying the patented Luminator technology to the beam delivery fibre on the GSI Group Fiber Lasers, an integrated protection system against back reflection issues has been provided that protects the Fiber Laser at a number of levels. As the effective mode area at the end of the delivery fibre is very small for single-mode beams, so the power density on the fiber ends is extremely high, meaning that they can be easily damaged if contamination is present, especially in the presence of back-reflected light. By shaping the fibre end, so that the beam is allowed to expand in diameter before it exits the silica material of the delivery fibre, the occurrence of this damage mechanism can be greatly reduced. Figure 2 is a schematic of the beam delivery termination of a fibre system incorporating these features to help eliminate damage due to back reflection issues.

Figure 3: Fiber Delivery incorporating Backreflection Protection GSI Group Limited

Key Applications
Fiber lasers are ideally suited to the types of environments typical in the medical device, computer, and electronics industries. The lasers compactness, elimination of complex cooling systems, excellent constant beam properties, long forgiving focal lengths, and rapid warm-up make them ideal for applications in this type of manufacture. Cutting stents and seam welding pacemakers and implantable batteries for medical applications are possibilities. The spot welding of flexures and suspension assemblies, such as read/write heads in computer manufacturing, is being considered, as is welding pressure transducers. Micromachining Micromachining processes, where excellent mode quality and high focusability are important for achieving small feature sizes, these new lasers are enabling commercial applications. For a number of years pulsed Nd: YAG lasers have been the laser of choice when detailed cutting, fine welding and drilling of metals is required. At wavelengths of around 1m, focusing optics are smaller and simpler to enable smaller spot sizes than equivalent CO2 lasers. The need for more efficient, compact and high beam quality lasers for very fine micromachining has fuelled the rapid growth for developing fiber lasers. These lasers operate at near IR spectral region and offer multitude of advantages over conventional lasers and shows greater promise to open up new micromachining applications. One of the biggest laser microcutting applications is in the medical industry and use of fiber lasers instead of pulsed lamp pumped Nd: YAG laser has increased. Medical devices are generally quite small for two basic reasons, they often must fit into small areas, or they are made of expensive materials and minimizing their size is cost- effective. Lasers, which can work in areas that require tolerance of only several microns, are an ideal solution for small, costly devices. Probably the most demanding application for micro- cutting in the medical device industry is the cutting of stents. A stent is a small, lattice-shaped, metal tube that is inserted permanently into an artery. The stent helps hold open an artery so that blood can flow through it. Stents are cylindrical metal scaffolds that are inserted inside a diseased coronary artery to restore adequate blood flow (Figure 4) The materials used for stents may be 316L stainless steel or nickel- titanium alloys (shape memory alloys). The typical tube diameters are between 1 and 10mm, with a wall thickness of approx. 100um. The key requirement is a small kerf width (20-30um) and this requires high beam quality and very good laser power stability with the fiber laser offers. The laser cut must have a very good surface quality with very little heat affected zone and no dross. Figure 5 shows an SEM micrograph of a typical stent after cutting and cleaning in an ultrasonic bath. With a 100W fiber laser, dross- free cuts (20um width) can be achieved with very high contour accuracy (< 5um). Typical cutting speed for 0.5mm thick 316L stainless steel with single mode laser output is approx 5m/min with nitrogen assist gas. Figure 6 shows cutting speed comparison between oxygen and nitrogen gas for stainless steel. This cutting data was generated with GSI 100W single mode fiber laser.

Figure 4: Stent delivery system

Figure 5: SEM micrographs of stent

Figure 6: Material thickness vs. cutting speed for 304SS (average power 100W)

Fiber laser is also very good for stencil fabrication (Figure 7) for solder printing. Small features of various shapes are produced in 250-500m thick stainless steel.

Figure 7: Stencil fabrication for solder printing

Apart being very good for thin sheet of ferrous and non- metals the fiber laser also offers advantages when cutting thick polycrystalline silicon (silicon wafer). Polycrystalline Silicon material is extremely brittle and prone to cracking during laser cutting. To date a pulsed lamp pumped Nd:YAG has been used successfully to cut this material. The initial cutting trials carried at GSI with the single mode 100W fiber laser are very encouraging (Figure 8) in terms of cutting speed, cut edge quality and length of micro cracking which was approx 10-15m long, which very similar those achieved with pulsed Nd:YAG laser sources. The edge quality is slightly batter than that achieved with pulsed Nd:YAG lasers because striations appeared to be orders of magnitude less than those with Nd:YAG lasers.

Figure 8: 250m thick polycrystalline silicon, 100W SM fiber laser, and 4m/min

Microjoining Because the high beam quality of single mode fiber laser the welding speeds are very high when welding thin foils of ferrous and non- ferrous materials. Welding of thin high aspect ratio welds in titanium and stainless steel and keyhole welding have been demonstrated with GSI single mode fiber lasers. Low power single mode fiber lasers are employed for spot, conduction and keyhole welding in a range of materials such as low carbon steels, Inconel, zinc coated steels, aluminium alloys, copper alloys, stainless steel and titanium alloys. With a CW fiber laser it was only possible to weld stainless steel up to 1mm thick, whereas with high precision, low average power, Nd: YAG laser with high power and enhanced control and complex pulse shaping facilities offer greater flexibility for microwelding a range of materials. With correct shaping of the temporal energy variation in pulse (pulse shaping) it is possible to produced good quality welds in a range of materials including highly reflectivity materials i.e. aluminium, copper alloys and dissimilar materials. Single mode fiber with its very high beam quality and small spot size it is well suited for microcutting. But given their low pulse energies, peak power and very short pulse widths at present these lasers are not first choice for microwelding. High precision, low average power, Nd:YAG lasers with enhanced control and complex pulse shaping facilities offer greater flexibility for microwelding, and microdrilling. Macromachining High power fiber lasers are a still being assessed by various users, but the main applications include automotive, aerospace, shipbuilding etc. In the automotive industry fiber laser are used for body- inwhite welding, tailored blank welding and hydroformed cutting. Compare to conventional lamp pumped Nd: YAG laser, fiber laser can be used for remote welding in automotive industry due to their superior beam quality. There are several major industrial areas of growth for fiber lasers with output power from 200W to the multi-kilowatt level. The ability to easily integrate with existing robots is particularly attractive to the automotive industry as it allows their capital investment to remain relatively low while providing versatility and redeployment for future needs. Cutting of hydroformed tubing, and remote welding are near-term applications.The technology enables fiber lasers to perform high-quality welding and cutting with the same unit. It is obvious that these lasers are capable of producing high welding speeds and deep penetration. However, more work is still required to address problems that can occur when welding thick sections with small spot size and high beam quality i.e. fit up of the parts and more importantly laser- induced plasma/plum emanating from the deep penetration keyhole. This plasma/plume can reduce weld

penetration, and cause instabilities in the vapour filled keyhole at the centre of weld pool, resulting in coarse porosity particularly for materials >4mm thick. The Fiber Laser is maturing rapidly as a technology for use in all aspects of metal fabrication from high finesse to thick section, and easily covers the typical job shop application areas. The key to its further penetration into these market areas is for system builders to integrate them with the high level of process parameter knowledge as is found on many of todays CO2 laser based systems.