News

AILU article. November 2018

14/11/2018

Having recently retired from the company I founded, Laser Process Ltd, I guess there will never be a better time to reflect on my time in the laser-cutting industry. This is a very brief resumé.

I was working for an engineering company back in 1980 when it’s traditional work was drying up and alternatives had to be sought. A trip to an exhibition at the NEC introduced us to a laser cutting machine for the first time. We had never seen anything like it and it had an immediate fascination. We discovered that, at that time, there were grants of up to 40% available for investments in new technology. The combination of sci-fi technology and free money had an irresistible attraction so we went for it. The grant was approved, the order was placed and we began preparing for our futuristic adventure. 

Our own machine was delivered just before Christmas 1980 and installation began immediately after the holiday. The industry was very new, ours was the largest installation in the UK and real practical knowledge, as opposed to theory, was in short supply. It turned out to be June before we got any meaningful production from the machine. In the meantime we had worked twenty-hour days, swore a lot and got a few laser burns (no safety interlocks in those days). We gained so much knowledge of our machine that the manufacturers began to come to us for advice. 

We had some strange requests in the early days such as drilling holes in diamond bearing rock and cutting wafer biscuits ( for Kit Kat). Neither became a viable process. 

We got to work on some interesting projects including the cutting of armour plate panels for the Tornado fighter and chassis components for the Sinclair C5 but, I guess, because the technology and the industry was so new everyday was exciting. 

We were asked to perform some laser welding trials on a gas distribution plate for TI New World cookers. What started out as a trial resulted in us producing a hundred and twenty thousand units for production. The strange thing about this process was, although it was essentially a study exercise, the customer completely ignored what we were doing, went their own way, and subsequently dropped the process because they couldn't make it efficient (they were producing in five and a half days what we were producing in one). 

Several years after my introduction to the laser industry I founded Laser Process who are today, twenty nine years later, still a major player.

Over the years we have been involved in many interesting and memorable jobs including a series of nearly 300 artworks for a national charity and several (pre-production and secret) projects. 

 To me, the most memorable thing about the industry, particularly the early years, has been the friendships formed with competitors, suppliers and others. There was a real feeling of belonging and no real sense of competition. There was a real family feeling and it was (still is) good to meet up at exhibitions and AILU meetings. 

I feel privileged to have been at the start of what is now a huge industry and proud to be able to call so many people friends ( I will not try to name them but most will know who they are). 

Dave Lindsey