ULO Optics expands with the purchase of Laser Beam Products

ULO Optics Ltd, one of the top infrared optics manufacturers in the world, has purchased Laser Beam Products. Continuing its’ plans of growth through diversification it now gives ULO two manufacturing sites within the UK. The new site in Bedfordshire will now operate as LBP Optics Ltd.handshake Mark and Paul SMALL

ULO Optics has been designing, manufacturing and supplying CO2 laser optics, and mid-IR optics for thermal imaging and sensing since 1982. With a drive to make sophisticated beam delivery equipment more affordable without compromising quality, they also manufacture a range of CO2 and 1µm fiber compatible beam delivery systems.

LBP Optics has 27 years’ expertise designing and manufacturing a unique range of chemically polished metal mirrors for use in the industrial and scientific laser marketplace.  Their mirrors are used in applications from CO2 and fiber laser cutting and welding, through to medical and dental lasers, gas sensing and spectroscopy.

Paul Maclennan, Director, tells us ‘Combining the expertise and manufacturing capabilities of the two businesses was an easy decision. We’ve worked closely together for many years and could clearly see the benefits for us and our customers. We will now be able to offer increased production capacity, extended metrology capability, additional technical expertise and resources. With a focus on quality we’ll also be implementing ULO’s ISO9001:2015 accreditation across all LBP Optics operations.’

According to Mark Wilkinson, founder of Laser Beam Products, this is an exciting development that will ensure the continuing growth of both businesses and allow them to meet the ever-increasing demand for their products and services.


Support for CO2 lasers

We’ve recently published an article in our newsletter about an increase in demand for our mirror reworking service. This isn’t just idle boasting, it is a result of OEMs dramatically cutting support for installed CO2 lasers, including a big reduction in stocks of spare parts.

This is probably because the bulk of current OEM production is now focused on fiber lasers, therefore support for existing CO2 laser users has been cut. So at LBP we’ve seen a corresponding increase in demand for laser mirror repairs, not just for truly obscure mirrors but for parts that were standard and widely available just 2 or 3 years ago.

We regularly repair, polish and coat a wide range of mirrors, including copper and molybdenum, to a ‘good as new’ condition, saving our customers time and money.

Automotive customer saves $15,000

Some of our aerospace and automotive customers insist we offer a RTV (Return To Vendor) repair programme to reduce the overall cost of ownership of laser equipment. It saves time, money and valuable materials, and is well worth doing.  The reworked mirrors are as good as new so there is no loss of quality or productivity. It can also contribute to ISO 14001 Environmental Management Here’s a great case study…

One of our customers, a European automotive manufacturer, sent us a collection of used mirrors from their production line that had accumulated minor burns and scratches, and had been swapped out.  They were large, complex water cooled beam delivery mirrors which we repolished and recoated to a condition that was as good as new. The mirrors were repaired and returned in under 3 weeks.

The customer was delighted and told us the mirrors were working perfectly, and had saved them $15,000 on the cost of new mirrors!. They have since had them reworked three more times.

Here’s an example of another customer’s mirrors that we reworked to a ‘good as new’ condition. These were from a gas sensing cell made by a company who stopped supporting their equipment. You can find out more on our website.

Reworked Mirror

Distortion of laser mirrors

It’s not widely appreciated how easy it is to distort a laser mirror with mechanical forces that can be generated from inadvertently over-tightening mounts, or water fittings. Although our experience is mostly with metal mirrors such as copper or aluminium, we know glass mirrors are just as sensitive to distortion. Sometimes the distortion is elastic, so the surface figure is restored when the mechanical force is removed. Often though the distortion can be permanent.  We recently repaired a water cooled mirror for a customer that was very thick ( 33mm ) and looked to be in good condition.

pip_in_mirrorBy reflecting a high mode quality visible laser beam from the mirror at 45 degrees incidence we could see the distortion the mirror introduced into the reflected beam profile. Using our phase shifting interferometer we could resolve a 2-3mm diameter convex ‘pip’, perhaps just a micron or so high, in the centre of the mirror. This is where the surface had been ‘punched through’ by the mounting screw in the rear of the mirror.


There was 16 mm thickness of solid copper between the bottom of the screw hole and the mirror face. Despite this though, it was still possible for the mechanical force from tightening of the mounting screw to permanently distort the mirror face.

The hot spot created in the reflected beam by the mirror distortion when used with a CO2 laser would have likely caused damage to other optics, such as the focus lens.


Optical polishing and finishing

Article recently published in Electro Optics magazine (issue 257, October 2015)

As our customers are starting to work with visible light as well as the more traditional infrared,  optics are increasingly required to perform well over a broader range of wavelengths. This means we need to look at how the mid-spatial frequency surface roughness affects the reflection of light in addition to the Ra surface roughness value and scratch-dig specifications.

A lot of applications are becoming more and more broadband and the days of having a mirror specified just for the infrared (IR) are becoming numbered; people want a multifunctional mirror that will work not just in the IR but perhaps for the visible as well.

What we are finding is that although the final application of the mirror might be for an IR application such as CO2 laser cutting (where surface roughness values in the range of tens of nanometres are often adequate) it may not be possible to test or align the part because these techniques often involve the use of visible light. For example you might be using terahertz or CO2 lasers – long wavelength applications where the quality of the mirrors doesn’t matter too much. But you have to align it or test it and that generally requires some sort of visible laser or visible technique. Then there will be scatter and diffraction of the visible light and although this might not matter when it is installed on the customer’s premises, if you can’t line it up in the factory then you are a bit stuck.

This is something that people overlook. We’ve had customers who think the mirrors don’t need to be that high a quality for their terahertz application, but then when they try to align their equipment with a visible laser they can’t do it.

Metal mirrors used for CO2 and terahertz applications are often produced by Single Point Diamond Turning (SPDT) whereby a flat, spheric, aspheric or even a freeform reflective surface is machined directly onto the mirror.

However, a simple surface roughness value and/or a scratch-dig specification have been found to be inadequate for SPDT metal mirrors used with visible or near infrared radiation. Using white light interferometric testing, we produced a cross section profile of a typical SPDT surface. Several families of grooves could be observed with different spacings and amplitudes; this significantly reduces the amount of specularly reflected visible light.
   unpolished                  Polished_newsdec13   polished

So although the SPDT parabolic mirror had a good surface roughness value of Ra = 5nm, when the mirror surface was analysed by spatial frequency a regularly repeating set of grooves could be seen with a spatial frequency in the order of 50–100 lines per mm. This repetitive mid spatial frequency surface roughness rendered the mirror unusable at 1um wavelength and produced a large amount of scattered and diffracted light at 633nm.

As a result of our chemical polishing, the mid spatial frequencies of the surface roughness of the same mirror were reduced considerably.

If you want good quality reflection from a mirror surface, then surface roughness Ra doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s the roughness and the important mid-spatial frequencies content which control the quality you get. So simply having a surface roughness specification of Ra = 5nm is just not sufficient.