By   Stephen LaMarca, AMT - Manufacturing Technology Analyst

The difference between a fiber laser and other free-space solid-state laser technologies are widely misunderstood and sometimes misrepresented. In a fiber laser, the beam is generated within the fiber. In other technologies, the beam is generated in free space and is then squeezed into a fiber-optic cable to be delivered to the workpiece. Both solid-state lasers and fiber lasers employ one of a number of rare earth elements typically in the lanthanides group of the periodic table (elements 57-71). The desired beam wavelength determines which element is used. 

While the differences between a CO2 gas laser and a fiber laser are clear, the difference between a fiber laser and a fiber-delivered laser is not always immediately apparent. The technology change comes from generating the beam within the fiber itself and the inclusion of other optical fiber components within the same, continuous, hermetically sealed fiber-optic beam path. This contrasts with fiber-delivered lasers, where the beam is generated by an array of solid-state optical crystals and discrete optical components, and is delivered to the workpiece via fiber for only the final part of its journey.

Fiber laser technology has encompassed the manufacturing and materials processing industry. Multi-kilowatt fiber lasers surpass other laser technologies. For example, general purpose marking has been taken over by fiber laser powered systems. The end users most likely to implement these new technologies are subcontractors. Both those who specialize in cutting thin metal such as for retail sheet metal work and those using a fiber machine’s strengths to complement CO2 laser machines cutting thicker grades of plate will find innovations in laser technologies most appealing.