This interview with David Lahrman, VP Business Development of LSP Technologies, Inc., appeared in the May 2020 issue of MFN International, the magazine for metal surface enhancement technologies.
Here, David discusses current breakthroughs in developing durable laser peening solutions for maintenance depots, whether parts are large, small, or just complex. LSP Technologies introduced its Procudo® Laser Peening System as a standard product for sale or lease three years ago. But custom versions of the Procudo® System now dominate its work.
The versatile Procudo® Laser Peening System, shown at the LSP Technologies headquarters, can improve metal fatigue life for a wide variety of metal components, offering deep residual compressive stresses
(?) MFN: LSP Technologies started building its laser peening business 25 years ago, and it has always been an innovator. Now we’re hearing the business is undergoing transformation. Tell us what’s going on lately and the nature of the changes.
(!) D. L.: We are seeing a lot of growth from the foundation of work in 2013, when we made an investment to design and build a new Procudo® Laser Peening System. It wasn’t just a process of developing the equipment. We also created a brand. The Procudo® name means “hammer” in Latin, and that brand seems to resonate as people read about us from China, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa, regardless of language.
(?) MFN: What accounts for this uptick in the global interest in laser peening?
David Lahrman works with a growing number of customers to develop custom laser peening applications for their parts
(!) D. L.: Our customers work in highly competitive industries, and they are constantly looking for ways to improve component life in parts for medical devices, aircraft turbine components, power generation, and heavy equipment. Since laser-peened parts can last longer, they see that as a competitive edge they can offer their customers.
(?) MFN: Is growth in laser peening primarily in maintenance and repair?
(!) D. L.: Not exclusively, but it’s playing a big role in extending the life of existing product lines. Customers are also intrigued about how to design a new product to take advantage of laser peening from the beginning to make a thinner, lighter-weight part that’s just as reliable as the initial part. We’re ready to help customers model the benefit of laser peening on the front end, not just as a solution for maintenance and repair problems at the back end.
(?) MFN: If you had to pinpoint one factor in this commercialization breakthrough, what would it be?
(!) D. L.: You have to provide a leap ahead in value, but the market also has to be ready, willing, and able to digest your product. The key has been the introduction of commercial-grade laser peening equipment, the first time we could offer something for sale or lease, that you could install in-factory on basically a turnkey basis. We used our standard laser peening equipment to demonstrate a competitive value proposition for using laser peening in manufacturing, and it’s exciting to see customers realize they can obtain life extension benefits for their parts.
(?) MFN: How is the product competing with other metal surface technologies?
(!) D. L.: People who understand shot peening, for example, quickly understand what laser peening can do. And then they pick up on the precision and deep compressive stresses of laser peening, without the issues of shot peening. We’re seeing more and more customers who have traditionally been using shot peening for a long time and now need an alternative.
(?) MFN: What contributed most to laser peening becoming ready for these customers?
(!) D. L.: A number of elements contributed to advancing and maturing the technology; specifically, recent laser technologies now available as off-the-shelf components. We integrate these with our software and some proprietary technology to create our Procudo® Laser Peening Systems. For example, diode-pumped lasers – now a standard product – made a big difference in speed, accuracy, and coverage area for laser peening.
(?) MFN: So you’re saying that this standard product has become the Swiss Army knife of laser peening?
(!) D. L.: That’s true, but the intriguing connection between standardization and customization has been fascinating. In the process of creating the Procudo® Laser Peening System, we built a standard product that we could sell to our customers, where we could make them the same, from unit to unit. That’s the beauty of being able to sell multiple systems – consistent in design, consistent with the customer’s expectations, and consistent with how they would apply it. The standard product is still very flexible, since it has the ability to meet specific customer requirements like variable energy, variable spot size, variations in the patterns we use to process the area on the part.
(?) MFN: But that standard product wasn’t enough for some customers?
(!) D. L.: Some of our customers adopted the standard Procudo® Laser Peening System, but others have genuinely novel product requirements. The Procudo® System uses robots to manipulate most parts so they would be in the path of the laser beam. Now we have had customers come to us with much larger parts, too big to move around with a robot. They asked us to innovate systems to direct the laser beam – that is, to move the beam delivery system. So now we have projects where we can move the beam delivery system and accommodate very large parts. At the opposite end, we collaborated with customers to customize laser peening systems for extremely small areas, using custom tools that fit their exact requirements. And our Procudo® Laser Peening System has to work in some extreme environments, so we hardened the system to operate in harsher industrial environments. Structurally from the core, it’s the same as our other Procudo® Systems, but it can thrive in these more demanding maintenance depots or harsh chemical and nuclear containment areas.
(?) MFN: What’s a good example of how this works?
(!) D. L.: One customer has components with extremely small component areas to process in a production/maintenance environment, so we deliver the laser beam through a durable fiber optic cable and through specialized tools at the terminal end of the fiber to precisely deliver laser peening and the benefits of compressive residual stresses to specific pinpointed areas on large components.
(?) MFN: So you have multiple tools attached to the same Procudo® laser peening system?
(!) D. L.: We have a wide range of standard tools with the system, as well the capability of developing specialized tools to custom-fit a different part when needed. Because of the different geometries and locations of processing areas, we develop specific laser beam delivery tools to address a different segment of the customer’s parts.
(?) MFN: It’s easy to see customization for already-assembled parts of machines going through maintenance areas. But isn’t the maintenance market for laser peened parts limited in scope?
(!) D. L.: Actually, this is where plenty of opportunities have opened up, because so many things are comprised of metallic materials. We have steel bridges, steel used in refineries, where we’re making fuel and gasoline, and aviation fuels. We have steels in buildings, steels in automotive components. Think about the cost-savings when we can extend the life of equipment at power generating stations, or the molds for tool and die operations. We can laser-peen aluminum, magnesium, essentially anything metallic, even medical components made with nickel cobalt materials. Laser peening can help anywhere there is a fatigue issue, and fatigue can be encountered in every metallic component.
(?) MFN: These are dramatic changes in the business. Was there a burning platform, that is, a sudden urgency at LSP Technologies about the necessity to change?
(!) D. L.: Absolutely! We’ve doubled our employment, and our sales growth qualified us for the Inc. 5000 (list of fastest growing private companies). We moved to a new headquarters and plant that holds more than three times our space in 2018, so plenty of room to grow. As we scaled up, we decided to build a team that is hungry, humble, and smart, the core of our culture. That involves confidently taking on new challenges while knowing we have a lot to learn in the process. We’re not intimidated by the technical content of our work because when we work together as a team, we can rely on our shared experience and knowledge.
(?) MFN: If that’s how you work together, how does that translate with customers in the defense, aviation, and power generation industries you serve?
(!) D. L.: That culture helps us build richer relationships with customers. From our perspective, we need more than a piece of paper coming over the fence that says, “Here’s our requirements.” We maintain a high level of two-way communication, and on top of that we build in formal design review points to ensure at each step we’re meeting our customer’s level of expectations. That provides yet another opportunity to sit down and talk with our customers in a clear, interactive way.
(?) MFN: What’s the next frontier for laser peening in a world where manufacturing is changing so rapidly? Are you involved with additive manufacturing?
(!) D. L.: It’s very exciting. The maturity of additive manufacturing has spurred adoption in aerospace and a lot of other advanced manufacturing areas. Now that manufacturers are obtaining consistent results between parts with AM, they want to look at key factors to add additional useful life, and we’re starting to engage with this industry. Laser peening will help customers mitigate things like surface texture or porosity, so they require less machining and still prevent fatigue initiation from the surface.
(?) MFN: So you’re talking about one layer, then laser peen; add the next layer, then laser peen?
(!) D. L.: That is one approach to address some of the issues with additive manufacturing, but not the only one. Additive processes inherently generate tensile stresses in the parts as the material cools and contracts, whereas laser peening counteracts that with compressive stresses.
(?) MFN: Are there other areas emerging?
(!) D. L.: We’re seeing renewed action in laser peen forming, the process of bending metal to precise shapes with the force of laser peening impact. That technology can shape parts during manufacturing, straighten them with precision, or help prepare repairs for things like aluminum ship hull plate replacement.
(?) MFN: That could make it an interesting future for LSP Technologies.
(!) D. L.: Any future that includes the rapid growth of laser peening applications – and even more Procudo® Laser Peening Systems – is exciting for us. Seeing our customers pull laser peening into their manufacturing facilities is very satisfying. It’s not just the future, it’s happening right now!
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