If you’ve explored hybrid laser technologies, such as the popular S-MOPA (Solid-State Master Oscillator Power Amplifier), for your application, you know that it promises high peak power, beam quality, output, as well as long service life – all in one product. This is due to the combined advantages of the YVO4 and fiber lasers that make up the “hybrid” technology.
While this sounds like an engineer’s dream come true, if you look more closely at each of these benefits, the claims and the realities don’t always match up completely. For instance, vague marketing claims promote “long service life,” but the question is: longer than what?
We wanted to know if hybrid laser technology was worth the investment. What we found was that the answer depends on what you’re willing to sacrifice to get all of the said benefits in one laser. Like anything, there is no one-size-fits-all solution without having some negative trade-offs for benefits you may not need. Let’s explore some alternative options at a high level:
If you’re looking for high peak power lasers:
- This would be for surface-level marking applications on plastics, anodized aluminum, etc.
- Try a DPSS pumping Nd:YAG crystal, such as The SMARTmark Tiburon. This technology still offers higher peak power compared to fiber technology, while improving over YVO4 by offering longer life and more efficient beam propagation. The Nd:YAG crystal as deployed in the Tiburon is not prone to the same alignment issues, and it’s superior in back reflection applications.
If you’re looking for high beam quality:
- Simply confirm via the laser’s technical specifications that the M2 value is close to 1 (which would be “perfect” beam quality), ideally no greater than 1.4. Aside from very low-cost lasers, most systems on the market are close to 1 M2 value, so most of the lasers you evaluate will offer virtually the same beam quality.
If you’re looking for high output/flexibility:
- This would be for applications such as deep engraving metals, being able to mark a combination of materials such as steel and copper or aluminum and plastic.
- The fiber laser has the largest range of wattages (10W-100W) and can mark the widest variety of materials. Check out this materials chart to explore what the fiber can mark.
If you’re looking for long service life:
- The fiber laser is still the best option for an easy-to-maintain laser, as adding an amplifier onto a vanadate doesn’t actually make it a fiber laser. With a true fiber laser, all optical surfaces (Bragg gratings) are fused into the fiber optic cable. The active fiber is where the laser gets the wavelength, which is internal and sealed. There are no optical surfaces to get dirty, and the beam delivery is sealed with no issues of alignment from different substrates in the beam path.
Future-proof your laser buying decision by accounting for the most important factors needed now and those you can foresee in the coming years. A hybrid laser is a general purpose tool meant to be one-size- fits-all, but as we reviewed the functionality, we saw that it simply can’t be the best in delivering on each and every benefit.
MECCO understands the value of different technologies for different applications and is certainly available to help you determine the right solution for your specific applications, but the first step is always to look at what you’re marking and start testing samples.