Industrial Laser Beam Profiling: What’s Going On Under The Hood?
By John McCauley, Midwest Regional Sales Manager, Ophir-Spiricon, LLC
Whether you’re new to lasers or you’ve been working with them for some time, you may be wondering what all the fuss is over laser beam profiling. Why worry about the quality of the laser beam that you’ve just put into production? Or, if you think your process is humming along nicely, why fix what isn’t broken? You might think that laser beam quality has more than likely been addressed at the research and development stage of the laser you have, or even at the manufacturing or integration stages of the system that you’ve received. You might be correct about that and hopefully you are. However, you might be surprised (as I was) to learn that this is not always the case.
Often, the person responsible for the laser treats it much like they would their own car. If it turns on when they want to drive and gets them where they need to go, they’re not worried about much else. If something goes wrong, they take it to a specialist to fix the problem and they’re not that interested in what makes it purr under the hood. They know they have to get the oil changed, the tires rotated, and fill the washer fluid now and then. Others like to tinker, get to know their automobile which can save themselves much time and many dollars by enabling themselves with the knowledge to fix problems that arise. Similarly, you may see the laser is a magic box that you bought to perform a task that you don’t care to mess with when things go wrong. Or you’re a savvy laser user that knows how to tinker under the hood to optimize your laser’s performance. At any rate, beam profiling can be an extremely valuable practice when implemented into your laser’s planned, preventative, or corrective maintenance routines.
Laser beam profiling can be described as using an imaging device to capture and display the spatial intensity of a laser’s energy. The software that is interfaced with this imaging device will then perform attribute measurements such as beam size, beam wandering, peak energy to centroid (or the geometrical center of the beam) location, and measure other beam characteristics. You can even incorporate an average power or energy per pulse measurement to calibrate these measurements (as provided by the most current technology). Bottom line is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, but the benefits of implementing laser beam profiling practices can be very beneficial at the end-user stage of a laser’s life.