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Industrial lasers from Rofin-Baasel are expected to be used for environmentally friendly technologies such as fuel cells and solar panels.

These technologies require inline manufacturing methods in order to ramp up production volumes and drive down local energy production and storage costs, according to the company.

Rofin-Baasel lasers already provide the cutting, drilling and welding functions necessary for the manufacture of consumer products such as mobile phones, MP3 players, batteries and food packaging.

Almost 30 years ago, Rofin subsidiary Baasel Lasertech developed high-speed perforation technology to allow cigarette manufacturers to produce lower-tar cigarettes.

The concept is that, if sufficient perforations of the right size are made around the cigarette filter paper, smokers draw in some cooler air along with the tar-laden air that they inhale from the cigarette.

This stream of cooler air encourages more of the tar vapour to be condensed inside the filter, which increases the filter’s efficiency and therefore reduces the harm that such cigarettes inflict on the smoker.

From a technical point of view, Baasel’s solution was to perforate the filter paper when it was on reels several tip lengths wide and prior to slitting.

This technology has been developed and is still in operation today at sites throughout the world.

The density of holes required and the speed of paper on the web means that modern cigarette perforators are capable of operating at 500,000 holes per second.

About a decade ago, pre-packaged salad suppliers realised that if salad bags could be perforated with the right-size holes (around 70um), they can breathe without drying out – more precisely, CO2, which reduces the shelf life of cut salad, can escape, whereas water vapour cannot.

More recently, packaging companies have solved the ‘peanuts in the lap’ problem with lasers; polymer/foil packaging can be scribed to weaken the wrapper along a prescribed line without breaching to the inner foil layer.

Designs incorporating laser ‘easy open’ are becoming widespread, as are laser-produced steam vents in microwave meal packs and weakened regions in pill blister packs and drinks-carton push-throughs for drinking straws.

As with cigarettes, the obvious way to process these packaging materials is when the polymer is in a pre-printed web form, prior to being formed into a bag or a wrapper.

Such an inline laser system then has to recognise a suitably printed trigger while feeding back the real-time speed of the web.

In this way, the laser can do its job at very high speed and without slowing or stopping the line.

Rofin hopes to meet the needs of the upscaling production of fuel cells and flexible solar cells.

These tasks require: reel-to-reel or inline handling with necessary tension control and take-up rollers; a laser with fixed, moving or galvo beam delivery; line-speed sensors for closed-loop on-the-fly processing; optical sensors/vision systems for precise laser triggering; debris exhaust and filtration; integrated control systems; and Safety Class 1 housings and interlocks.

Such a system will typically be used for the isolation of individual solar cells on a flexible substrate by scribing a line between individual cells, sufficiently deep to electrically isolate the top conducting layer.

Cells can also be coded using a laser marker as part of the system.

Rofin-Baasel UK Ltd is the UK sales and support subsidiary of Rofin Sinar Technologies Inc, which is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of industrial lasers and is quoted on the USA NASDAQ stock exchange. Rofin makes lasers and laser systems for marking, welding, cutting, drilling and perforating and offers sources and solutions across all the main industrial laser technologies CO2, solid state and fibre lasers. Our lasers are employed in most manufacturing markets to give customers unprecedented results in terms of quality and throughput. We have over 30,000 installations in industries such as medical device, electronics, automotive, jewellery, tool and mould, aerospace and solar power. Examples demonstrating the range of capabilities of Rofin lasers include: * In-line packaging material manufacturers use our lasers to create ‘easy open’ perforated lines in packaging. * High street jewellers buy our microwelding workstations to make and repair jewellery. * Surgical tool and implant manufacturers produce clean and permanent identification marks on their products with Rofin markers. * Photovoltaic customers rely on laser operations from scribing to drilling to make solar panels and wafers. Rofin-Baasel welcomes the opportunity to show customers what lasers can do for them.

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