“Lasers will shape our future”

© Photo | David Jackson

Dr. Shuang Liu (28) earned her doctorate in the laser processing of materials. We asked her what drew her to light.

Ms. Liu, do you actually use a laser pointer in your everyday work?

Yes, I do. And it gets a lot of use!

Lasers had an almost magical quality for the rst generation of laser scientists in the 1970s and 80s. Is that a feeling you can still appreciate today?

Absolutely! There’s definitely something miraculous about lasers. But I think my generation sees the laser more as a tool that has become an essential part of our everyday work. Light is used as a tool by just about every carmaker — and virtually every single smartphone screen is cut by laser. The first generation of lasers focused on a much narrower range of applications, largely because lasers were still very expensive and there wasn’t much research. Today we have a much better understanding of how lasers work and ready access to many different types of laser.

Do you think it’s important to study laser technology in the country where it originated? Is that what prompted your move from China to America?


Shuang Liu doctorated on laser clading techniques and experimented with different powder injections. (Photo | David Jackson)

Moving to Dallas was a major life change which I saw both as a challenge and a great opportunity. I had already had some contact with using the laser to process materials as part of my three-year master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Suzhou University. That’s when I realized that lasers will shape our future. That thought fascinated me, so I decided to delve deeper into laser technology. And the birthplace of the laser seemed like a good place to start.

What was the subject of your dissertation?

The core themes for my research were laser cladding, laser welding, rapid prototyping, and using the laser to remove paint. In my dissertation I examined two different laser cladding methods and carried out experimental studies with powder injections. To compare and contrast the two methods, I observed the powder feed behavior and the thermal behavior of the hot melt tape. Laser cladding is a key application in industry when it comes to optimizing surfaces and protecting them against wear, corrosion and tremendous heat.

I feel that laser welding will become increasingly competitive with traditional welding methods in the future and will even replace conventional welding techniques in many application areas.

What was special about your studies?

I had an outstanding doctoral advisor, Prof. Radovan Kovacevic. He gave me all the support he could and showed me that it’s not just about the research. He taught us to take a disciplined approach to our work, to develop perseverance and to resolutely pursue our goals. At the end of the day, getting your doctorate can be quite a solitary affair because you are researching an area that’s almost entirely new. That makes it exciting — but sometimes also frustrating. So it felt even more special to finally hold my doctor’s degree in my hands after all that long and arduous research work!

Talking of solitary work: When laser technology was still in its infancy, laser users felt they were part of a community, even though they were each working on completely different things. Does that sense of solidarity still exist?

There is more

Miller Electric, with headquarters in Appleton, Wisconsin, manufactures arc welding and cutting equipment designed for manufacturing, aviation, motorsports, agriculture and marine applications.

This company grows from a one-man operation to the world’s largest manufacturer of arc welding and cutting equipment.

Definitely. I would even say that the community pulled together even more tightly. International laser conferences and conventions have increased people’s ability to share and exchange their ideas.

What led you personally to become a laser engineer?

After seven years in research I was intrigued by the idea of working in industry. Up until that point all my work had been academic, on-campus projects. By chance I heard that Miller Electric had an opening for a laser engineer, so I applied and got the job.

Your company specializes in arc welding. What role will lasers play in the future?


The young engineer startet her business career in the industry after seven years of study and research. Now she develops automation solutions for welding tasks at Miller Electric. (Photo | David Jackson)

I think that laser welding will become the welding method of choice in the future, gradually superseding arc welding. Lasers weld perfect seams with minimal thermal injection and at a constant level of quality. Arc welding won’t be able to match that in the future.

Almost a year has passed since you joined the company. What are you working on at the moment?

Right now we’re expanding the laser business at Miller Electric. We obviously want to develop and broaden our skills as specialists in arc welding. The ITW Group is helping us do that. If we get a customer who is interested in laser welding, we take them into our laser laboratory and show them the tremendous precision that lasers can achieve. Then we work closely and actively with the customer to find an automated turnkey solution that best matches their needs. The actual welding technique is really just a means to an end within the complex overall automation solution.

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