May 7, 2012 -- Western Michigan University developed a device combining a laser and diamond cutting system, enabling users to process hard, brittle materials that are difficult to machine. Initial applications include micro electro mechanical system (MEMS) manufacturing, and other fabrication on semiconductor and ceramic materials.
The technology, developed by John Patten and Deepak Ravindra, combines a fiber laser (typically near-IR) with an optically transparent diamond cutting tool. Essentially, the laser source's high temperature (1,000°C+) and pressure (>100 GPa at the cutting point) thermally heats and softens the material's surface to make it more ductile and easier to machine with the high-stress diamond tool.
It does not create cracks like existing manufacturing processes do with diamond tools, which require subsequent polishing. This technique softens the material before processing so no cracks or fractures are ever introduced, eliminating those costs and time, explains Ravindra.
A spinoff company, Micro-Laser Assisted Machining Technologies (μ-LAM), has been formed to commercialize the technology. Their work has been backed by more than $2.3 million in funding since 1999, mostly from the National Science Foundation (NSF). A description of their work will be presented at next month's North American Manufacturing Research Conference (NAMRC) at Notre Dame in South Bend, IL (paper 7777). They received a SMA Innovation award in 2009.
Learn more about lasers for device fabrication from Industrial Laser Solutions at http://www.industrial-lasers.com/index.html, which provided this news story.
Schematic illustrating the concept of the μ-LAM process. (Source: μ-LAM)