A History of Laser Drilling

Laser drilling has become one of the most established and efficient manufacturing processes used today, and we see it appear in a number of different industries, especially in the automotive, aerospace, medical, semi-conductor, and electrical industries.

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As it’s become so widely established and cemented in our manufacturing processes, it’s easy to not think about where laser drilling first started! So, to provide a little context to laser drilling, we have explored its history in greater detail below.

The link between laser cutting and laser drilling

Many of the laser processes that we and other laser companies offer are very similar, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart. For example, laser drilling is also a form of laser ablation, as it involves the melting of a material’s surface layer by layer. Laser drilling is also sometimes mistaken for laser cutting, as the two do both do a form of cutting.

This is unsurprising, given that laser drilling was essentially born out of the laser cutting process. In 1965 a laser cutting machine, which had been manufactured by Western Electric Engineering Research Centre, was used for the laser drilling of diamonds.

This process came about roughly ten years after the laser had first been invented, and after the first diamond had been successfully laser drilled, more and more began trickling into labs.

Laser drilling history – how laser drilling has developed since the 1960s

While it was clear that laser drilling was effective on diamonds, it is clear that those involved in the process weren’t aware of just how important laser drilling would be. Since being nothing more than an offshoot of laser cutting, it has developed into its own highly efficient and highly effective process, great for working with many materials such as metals and plastics.

As with much of history, certain events need to align for certain things to come about. For example, think of the multiple pieces of technology involved in something like a mobile phone. To be a smart phone, innovation has to be widespread enough to give rise to multiple smart pieces. The reason these phones weren’t around a couple of decades ago is because there simply was not the right tech. And this is true of laser drilling also. Firstly, innovation and development has led to the laser drilling process; a process which can drill depths and diameters of a much more accurate and smaller nature than more conventional methods. Secondly, the rest of the world has changed around laser drilling. Parts have become smaller, components have become more complicated, and manufacturing processes have had to become more efficient. Conventional drills simply are not up to scratch anymore, and so the vital need for laser drilling was born.

Since it has become an established laser solution in its own right, it has undergone its own forms of innovation and development over the years. There are now multiple forms of laser drilling processes available, which are: single-shot or percussion laser drilling, trepan laser drilling, and helical laser drilling.

The vital need for laser drilling

Laser drilling has not just become an alternative for those in the manufacturing plants; it is, in many cases, the only viable solution. Laser drilling is able to create holes with diameters as small as 0.0005”, something that a conventional drill simply cannot achieve.

When we are dealing with industries such as the medical sector, which has the need for life-saving tools, or the aerospace and automotive industries which have to create safe and reliable machines, it is important to have the most effective method in place.

Laser drilling for medical devices[1]

Laser drilling is now a vital part of many of our processes, and is used to create important items like medical devices

Laser drilling as part of our future

Not only is there a rich history surrounding laser drilling, but it also looks set to become a firm part of our future as well. While it is already extremely useful in creating and manufacturing many of the products and items that we safely use each and every day, laser drilling has been explored as a possible concept for helping to create sustainable and habitable underground bases on Mars.

It will be interesting to revisit this article in a couple of decades and see just what else laser drilling has contributed to our history; perhaps we’ll be writing the next piece from Mars!

Want to know more about laser drilling?

The above has provided a brief overview of the history of laser drilling, tracing its roots from where it started to how it has become such a vital part of society today. If you were still interested in hearing more on laser drilling, or how effective our Continuous Wave Fiber Laser or Pulsed Fiber Laser range is with laser drilling, simply get in touch with one of the team

Image credits: gr8effect and sasint

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