Laser Ablation Applications

Laser ablation is one of many types of laser process that our fiber lasers can perform here at SPI Lasers. While bearing many similarities to other processes, such as laser cleaning, it is an important method in its own right.

It has grown to have many uses, and so has likely had an impact on all of our lives in some way. We’ve explored just some these uses in our detailed article below.

It is worth noting that there are three major types of laser on the market; crystal lasers, gas lasers and fiber lasers. While we only manufacture fiber lasers here at SPI Lasers, for the purposes of this article we will be examining the overall applications of laser ablation, and not just limited to fiber lasers alone.

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Laser ablation is regularly used in semiconductor manufacturing

The process of laser ablation

Before examining the many applications for laser ablation, it is worth detailing background information to both how the process works, and what benefits it offers to its users.

Gaining an understanding of this context will allow you to easily see just why it has become such a dominant process around the world today.

How does the process work?

Simply put, laser ablation is the removal of a layer from a solid substrate using a focused laser beam. This beam is directed onto the material’s surface, and the layer being targeted will absorb the heat and energy of the beam, eventually being irradiated.

By modifying the beam’s wavelength, pulse duration and pulse repetition rate, the user controls just how much of a layer, or how many layers they remove. The layer being removed will turn into either gas if a lower level of flux is used, or plasma if a higher level is used.

It can work with a number of materials, such as:

  • Metal
  • Glass
  • Crystal and
  • Ceramics

What are the benefits?

Some of its important benefits are:

  • There is minimal heat transfer to the surrounding area of a material that you are laser ablating
  • Given that the process can be completed quickly and efficiently, it is a highly cost-effective solution
  • It is much more environmentally friendly than many of its counterparts, resulting in very little residue waste

Now that you can see both how the process works, and why it’s useful, we can examine how this is applied to so many different applications.

The applications for laser ablation

When lasers were first discovered as a potential use in industries back in the 1960s, they perhaps weren’t taken as seriously as they deserved at first. While the scientific community recognised their importance, they didn’t really see how lasers could fit into the wider world around them.

It wasn’t long until they started to enjoy commercial use, and since then they have grown to be a crucial part of many sectors around the world. From heavy industrial settings in the automotive and aerospace industries, to key areas like helping to save lives, they aren’t only limited to manufacturing plants.

The process is widely used in the automotive industry

Laser ablation itself can be used in three primary ways. The most common is the removal of a surface layer of a material, as we’ve examined above. The second is its ability to deposit film onto a surface area. The final use is for determining the presence of materials or chemicals on the surface layer of another material.

With multi-functional purposes such as these, it is easier to understand why laser ablation has become such a widely used process. We’ve looked at just some of the applications of laser ablation below.

Various surgeries

Given the fact that it can work with human tissue, it is becoming an important process in the surgical world. By placing a thin laser probe in places such as the brain, it has been used to remove brain tumours and spine tumours. It’s even showing promise for the treatment of prostate cancer too.

Alongside the treatment of cancer, it can perform other surgeries too. It is used to treat epilepsy, as well as the cauterising and closing of veins in one’s legs. While this may be for cosmetic reasons, it is generally done to alleviate pain and aching.

It offers a more precise and safer alternative to many traditional methods, and also has fewer side effects too.

The resurfacing of human skin

Other ways that it is used with biological tissue is for the resurfacing of human skin. Laser ablation is able to resurface superficial, medium and deep wounds, and all to great effect. It is generally used to treat photo damaged skin or scars, but can also be used for facelifts as well.

It is a process that can be used on human skin

Dentistry

Given the fact that laser ablation can remove layers off a surface of a material while causing minimal damage to the surrounding area, it is widely used by dentists. One of the most common applications in this industry is for removing tooth enamel.

Cleaning surfaces

Remember that we mentioned that ablation is very similar to laser cleaning? The process is widely used for the cleaning of a number of surfaces. Reasons that this may be done are to remove paint from a surface, cleaning a surface ready for use again (such as baking trays), or to prepare a surface for other types of treatment and process.

Another key application for cleaning is when it is used with metal, helping to easily remove rust from the surface layer.

Coating surfaces

Earlier we looked at how laser ablation has three primary functions, and one of these was to deposit a material onto the surface of another material. This is done by laser ablating one material, and depositing the residue on the other material that you want to work with.

This can be done to coat the surface layer, helping to create a high-quality end-product that can’t be easily evaporated. For example, it is regularly undertaken for semiconductors and nanomaterials.

Transferring momentum

Another use for laser ablation is for the transferring of momentum. As the process applies a high amount of pressure to the surface that it is working on, it can help to harden this surface. It’s extremely similar to (as if you were) hitting the surface with a hammer.

Scientific uses

The fact that it can determine chemicals and materials present on a surface is highly useful for the scientific community. This is a much more environmentally-friendly way of doing it compared to past methods, where often toxic chemical solutions would have to be used.

It is also used by scientists to research the way in which nerves function, as well as tissues. Most of this research occurs by destroying the tissue!

Would you like to find out more?

Laser ablation, and its applications, is a highly interesting topic, given the fact it is a such a versatile method. If you are interested in discussing this further, then we would love to have a call to discuss this further!

Alternatively, if you want to find out more on the specifics of fiber lasers and our products, then we’re here to help. Please find all of our relevant contact information listed here.

 

Image credits: 95839, Mike, ajcespedes and ranjatm

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