How laser technology makes manufacturing more sustainable


As the world faces important environmental challenges and global warming represents a real threat to the world’s future, governments and consumers are starting to take action. Across 30 of the world’s largest countries, governments have implemented more than $17.2 trillion worth of incentives in efforts to move industries toward greener and more sustainable practices.

In addition to incentives, governments are implementing green laws requiring manufacturers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Customers are questioning manufacturers’ attempts to implement eco-friendly policies. 85% of consumers say they have actively changed their purchasing behaviors with sustainability in mind.

While no industrial processes are 100% green, manufacturers can take proactive steps to reduce and implement technologies to make manufacturing more sustainable. Fiber laser technology is one of them, and it is gaining in popularity.

In this article, we’ll discuss the top 5 reasons why fiber laser technology is an importantly in moving manufacturers towards more sustainable practices.

1) Energy efficiency

Energy sources used in manufacturing such as coal, oil, and gas are damaging to the environment. Improving energy efficiency is one of the keys to making manufacturing operations more sustainable.

While carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers used to be predominant in manufacturing, fiber lasers are now more popular than ever. Today, fiber lasers have significantly improved energy efficiency. The typical fiber laser consumes three to five times less energy than CO2 lasers. They also require less time (and energy) for powering up and have smaller cooling requirements than their predecessors.

Solid-state components in fiber lasers also require less electrical input than CO2 lasers. For example, a 2kW fiber laser can cut thin material as fast as a 4-5kW CO2 laser.

2) No consumables

Manufacturing makes up more than half of the world’s Global Warming Potential (GWP). Clearly, the industry needs to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste.

A large amount of waste is generated from consumables during manufacturing operations. Lasers produce zero waste and replace many technologies that rely heavily on consumables.

For example, laser marking can replace many processes that use consumables such as printed labels and ink. Laser cleaning can also replace processes like sandblasting, eliminating abrasive media that require disposal.

3) No chemicals

Lasers can help manufacturers reduce their dependency on chemicals by replacing chemical stripping solutions used for surface cleaning.

Many manufacturing operations still use chemicals to remove surface contaminants. In most cases, these chemicals must be managed to avoid contamination. For example, chemical stripping uses various chemicals to remove contaminants and includes several rinsing steps. At each stage, the rinse water needs to be treated and disposed of properly.

When only a specific area needs to be cleaned, laser cleaning can selectively remove rust, oxides, coatings, and other types of surface contaminants without using chemicals or requiring chemical rinses.

Boeing found that using laser ablation to remove paint from airplanes rather than chemical stripping or media blasting can decrease hazardous waste by more than 90%.

4) Compact Manufacturing

The smaller the industrial footprint, the less impact on the environment. Laser technology is exceptionally compact and decreases the space required for manufacturing operations.

In battery manufacturing, for example, a single laser welding machine can be just as efficient as dozens of ultrasonic wire bonding machines. Switching to lasers can potentially reduce floor space by 400-800 square feet while also greatly reducing energy consumption.

Fiber lasers in particular are exceptionally compact. Laser light is produced in an optical fiber cable. By comparison, a CO2 laser requires a large chamber for mixing gases. Fiber lasers typically use integrated air cooling rather than an additional chiller unit. This reduces the footprint even further and reduces energy consumption.

5) Long operating life

When a machine needs to be replaced, materials often go to waste. Additional resources are then used to produce new equipment. Machines with longer operating life contribute to making the world more sustainable by reducing this type of waste.

Fiber laser systems have impressive statistics when it comes to operating life. Most fiber laser sources can operate for 100,000 hours — much more than most types of industrial equipment and three times the lifespan of a CO2 laser. This means fiber lasers can operate 24/7 for at least 10 years and produce consistent, high-quality results.

Taking proactive steps for a more sustainable future

Despite pledges, most countries are behind on hitting the greenhouse gas emission targets. Serious steps need to take place to catch up and prevent further environmental damage. Manufacturers need to play an important role in making changes for a more sustainable future. Companies taking action can also inspire and attract customers as well as new talents.

Lasers — more specifically fiber lasers — are one of the technologies that can support this effort by reducing waste, energy, chemicals, and consumables in manufacturing.


About the author

Trained as a Mechanical Engineer, Guillaume Jobin has more than 10 years of experience in automation and control. He is an Application Specialist at Laserax, where he is also a member of the Corporate Sustainability Committee.

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