Dr. Ronald D. Schaeffer, CEO and founder of PhotoMachining, is a popular speaker and laser industry luminary who completes a whirlwind, globe-hopping tour of manufacturing and technology conferences each year.
Mirroring the rapid market trajectory of industrial lasers, Schaeffer’s travel schedule and many of his courses and “Ask the Expert” sessions now spotlight ultrafast, short pulse (USP) laser technologies.
“USP lasers and beam delivery are really the primary focus,” reports Schaeffer. “Ninety percent of my curriculum used to revolve around excimer lasers. Now that is down to just a couple of pages.”
Schaeffer suggests the secret to laser micromachining success is selecting the right laser for the job.
Hint: Laser Pulse Length
Schaeffer quickly takes folks to the picosecond (one trillionth of a second) and femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second) laser pulse realm.
Today’s complex features and thinner materials start at 1 mm —the thickness of a dime —and typically approach micron (µm) specifications with small targets or spots that require high pulse energy and shorter pulse length (aka peak power) for precision and control.
With the swift commercialization of femtosecond lasers, device manufacturers can now achieve far more accurate processing of parts requiring micron scale resolution and exceptional edge quality. Schaeffer is also quick to point out the technology’s positive impact on cost of operations.
Schaeffer contends the femtosecond pulse regimes enable a broader range of applications with higher quality and cleanliness of finished parts—and require far less post processing steps. A laser regime effectively defines the pulse train emitted from the laser. Different pulse trains are used for different materials and different machining effects, i.e. milling, drilling, cutting or any combination of these.
“Our goal at PhotoMachining is to make parts. We want to increase efficiency and cost effectiveness while decreasing the risk of product defects and the need for post processing steps,” says Schaeffer. “Our expertise is helping clients identify and customize the solutions to deliver superior results and part performance.”
Watch Ron explain more about lasers in the Laser MicroMachining Video Series.
Femtosecond lasers enable device manufacturers and contract service providers, like PhotoMachining, to advance design parameters for fuel injector nozzles, solar cells and microfluidics. While materials – including glass, sapphire, medical polymers and silicones— aren’t new, Schaeffer relates that brittle and heat-sensitive materials have accelerated the adoption of femtosecond lasers in production environments as many of the features and microprocessing applications weren’t possible or economically feasible with longer pulse lasers.
“Our USP lasers are constantly booked because there are so many new applications and new areas to explore, states Schaeffer. “The USP lasers present strong market potential and opportunity for business growth.”
Since the longer pulse duration of continuous wave and nanosecond lasers (one billionth of a second) impart heat to material, they are typically used for laser welding or the creation of larger scale features where recast, melting and burrs—and any subsequent post processing required—will not affect part performance.
Femtosecond laser micromachining continues to streamline manufacturing processes and accelerate materials innovation, displacing picosecond and longer pulse laser technologies, as well as EDM and mechanical tools.
“I often compare myself to an evangelist – preaching the gospel of lasers. It really is a constant educational process with the vast variety of lasers available today,” explains Schaeffer. “And, I am always surprised by the number of manufacturers I see who still rely on chemical etch and traditional machining.”
Schaeffer and his business partner John O’Connell co-founded PhotoMachining in 1997 to offer specialized, high precision laser micromachining services. Their team is always ready to help manufacturers navigate the transition from mechanical process to all-laser precision manufacturing.
He also devotes time to working with high school and college engineering students as well as Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) student groups, providing them with an inside view on how to start a laser services house.
“I try to teach others how to sell solutions using a common sense, real-world approach to lasers and materials processing,” Schaeffer said.
Quick Study? Download Raydiance’s Precision Machining without Heat white paper to learn more about lasers, pulse lengths, applications and materials.
About This Week’s Expert:
Dr. Ron Schaeffer and his associates at PhotoMachining in Pelham, New Hampshire offer high precision laser micromachining services for the medical, aerospace, display and microelectronics industries. The company specializes in micro drilling, micro milling and thin film patterning using a variety of DSSP, CO2, excimer and USP lasers.
LIA’s Lasers in Manufacturing Event, ICALEO, IMTS, Fabtech, and Medical Device Manufacturing (MDM) events were just a few of the stops on Schaeffer’s itinerary this fall. He authored Fundamentals of Laser Micromachining in 2012 and frequently contributes articles to Industrial Laser Solutions and MicroManufacturing magazines. Schaeffer earned a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Lehigh University.