GE Researchers Bring Next Generation Laser Technology to the Plant Floor

2 May 2013

GE Aviation, a manufacturer of jet engines for commercial and military aircraft, has opened a $75 million new plant in Auburn, Alabama, where workers will use lasers to drill small cooling holes in jet engine blades made from heatproof superalloys used in high-pressure turbines.

Laser technologies are quickly becoming mainstream on the manufacturing floor, moving from specialty applications to conventional tools used by staff in plants, said Hongqiang Chen, lead laser processing engineer at GE Global Research (GRC), as quoted by Aviation Online Magazine.

Chen and his team are working on the development of laser tools that can also weld and scribe metal, using a 20 kW laser that is 50,000 times more powerful than a DVD burner. Thanks to its high-energy density, the laser gets deep and fast below the surface of metal parts with a penetration speed of 90 inches per minute, or three times faster than conventional welding methods. The laser is mounted on a robotic work station to melt metal and the researchers expect to come up with other novel welding techniques that are faster and more efficient and can be utilised in a more environmentally-friendly manner than traditional welding methods.

GRC is also creating laser-enabled applications for 3-D laser printers, using a high-power laser beam to precisely melt metal powder layer by layer, which is added in a special container. After that, the laser fuses the dust particles to produce the desired shape.

According to GE Aviation engineer Duncan Pratt, this next-generation laser technology will make its presence visible in all aspects of our life, teaching us how to use materials and manufacture things.