I’ve been thinking a lot about lasers lately. First, I recently attended a materials joining conference sponsored by the Edison Welding Institute (EWI, Columbus, OH), where many of the presentations focused on laser technology. Then, the other day, I read an obituary in the newspaper for Theodore Maiman, the inventor of the laser.

While pondering that coincidence, I began wondering if anyone is really using lasers on the plant floor for applications other than cutting metal? My suspicions were aroused by a recent report from the Laser Systems Product Group of the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT, McLean, VA). Its quarterly market watch revealed that fourth quarter 2006 shipments of industrial laser equipment and systems for North America were down 20 percent from a year ago. Specifically, demand for CO2 lasers dropped 75 percent, while Nd:YAG lasers plummeted 84 percent.

Lasers hold tremendous potential for assembly applications. But, the main argument against them has always been the steep price tag. I’ve seen small applications of laser technology-primarily for part-marking and alignment tasks-but nothing on a large scale.

Is anyone out there really using lasers to join parts together? When will lasers become a more common sight on assembly lines?