Most of us know lasers as fun little lights that cats chase, but we also know them as heavy-duty cutting tools. However, these technological marvels weren’t always a part of business and personal life. Just like all scientific advancements, the laser—and more specifically, laser cutting—had to start somewhere. Here is a quick history of laser cutting technology.
At the heart of science is innovation. You can’t learn something new or discover something groundbreaking without pushing the boundaries. This was the case with the laser cutter. Western Electric had a history of setting itself at the forefront of breakthroughs, and this was no different with laser cutting technology.
Lasers had only been around for about six years when a team at Western Electric applied lasers to industrial work in 1965—a relatively short amount of time when you consider that Einstein’s theoretical tinkering with lasers began nearly 50 years prior. Western Electric’s work drilling holes with lasers sparked a domino effect in the scientific world.
Enter the CO2 Laser
When Western Electric developed and used lasers for their industrial processes, they worked primarily with ruby lasers that were effective yet expensive. If the laser was to enter full-scale production and maximize its value, then it needed specific changes. Inventors like Kumar Patel and Peter Houldcroft found a better way forward.
Kumar Patel invented the CO2 laser in 1964, offering a more effective and less expensive alternative to the ruby laser. Taking Patel’s creation forward, Peter Houldcroft crafted a laser cutting nozzle that used carbon dioxide with supplemental volumes of oxygen. The refined design enabled him to cut through a thin steel sheet, one of the first applications of lasers for cutting raw materials.
Expanding Into Industry
Once Western Electric saw the potential of Houldcroft’s design, they made headway on the first laser cutting machine and monetized the technology by selling it to industrial companies. Once businesses began using the laser cutter, the expansion took to new heights. While some needed convincing of the tool’s precision and relevance, others immediately saw the potential. Now, laser cutters are trusted, must-have machines in the automotive, maritime, jewelry, and manufacturing industries.
This quick history of laser cutting technology isn’t nearly enough time to dive into the inspiring creativity of scientific inventors. However, it’s enough to say that laser cutting is one of the most effective and widely used tools in the manufacturing world today. There are many more reasons to switch to laser cutting, but take the advice of history’s brilliant minds and use these tools in your manufacturing business.