Scratching the Surface of What Femtosecond Lasers Can Do
Providence Texture uses laser ablation with five-axis CNC lasers specifically designed for mold and part surface texturing, engraving, machining, and marking. Today the shop believes is it sill only scratching the surface of its femtosecond laser technology capabilities.
Moldmaking work is a family tradition for the team at Providence Texture in Smithfield, Rhode Island. My father, Hank Melonio, and uncle, Don Melonio, established Custom Etch Inc. in 1982. This is where I got my start in the industry. Custom Etch helped to pioneer the use of five-axis laser texturing in the 2010s when it was the first shop in North America to incorporate the AgieCharmilles LASER 4000 5Ax by GF Machining Solutions, a powerful five-axis solution with the capacity to handle workpieces up to four meters by three meters in size.
In 2016, I left my father’s business to strike out on my own, focusing my attention on the future of laser technology, particularly as femtosecond lasers and five-axis capabilities grew in prominence.
I worked closely with GF Machining Solutions’ applications engineers and R&D department as I established Providence Texture with the AgieCharmilles LASER P series as its foundation, including the first dual-laser source AgieCharmilles LASER P 400 U in a North American job shop.
The femtosecond laser technology was so new that when I got it, many aspects were undergoing active development. The AgieCharmilles LASER P 1200 U arrived first, but I quickly found myself with jobs that required the new laser technology.
To do the work and prove out the parts before my AgieCharmilles LASER P 400 U arrived, I flew to Switzerland twice in December 2016 to work on a machine at GF Machining Solutions New Technologies headquarters. They’ve been with me every step of the way as my team, and I have worked to define the possibilities of femtosecond lasers.
In addition to the AgieCharmilles LASER P 1200 U, Providence Texture’s 5,000-square-foot facility’s primary production cell includes the AgieCharmilles LASER P 1000 U and the AgieCharmilles LASER P 400 U, the latter of which features the dual-source 20-watt infrared femtosecond laser and 30-watt infrared nanosecond flexible pulse laser.
We connected these two machines with a System 3R palletized automation system featuring both Dynafix and Macro standard pallets with custom fixturing, as well as 28 feet of linear track for a Transformer robot.
The combination of laser technology and a robot automation solution are critical for our shop. With our custom fixtures, we can program a reference offset and know that we’re within two to three microns of accuracy when that fixture goes back in front of the laser. That kind of precision is key when you’re working at the micron level; we maintain the ambient shop temperature within four degrees to ensure the greatest possible accuracy.
We have primarily served the medical, lighting and jewelry industries; but as word of mouth has spread, we have also picked up jobs from the packaging, automotive, defense, consumer products and sports equipment sectors, as well as an increasing number of requests for aerospace and electronics components, including NASA. Production lot sizes vary from one-off jobs to series of tens of thousands of parts.
We plan to add a second AgieCharmilles LASER P 400 U to the shop in future months to conduct more research on the possibilities of femtosecond laser technology. I see many new applications to come, and a second machine will let me explore those possibilities without bottlenecking production. We’re only scratching the surface of what the femtosecond laser is capable of. It’s only a matter of time before it changes the whole industry as we know it.
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