High-Brightness Diode Laser Modules for Optical Pumping of Fiber Lasers

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1 High-Brightness Diode Laser Modules for Optical Pumping of Fiber Lasers Dr. Jörg Neukum, DILAS Diodenlaser GmbH Through optimization of semiconductor structures and optical concepts, application specific fiber-coupled laser modules have been developed. The underlying concepts and technologies are suitable for fully-automated production. For the optical excitation of solid-state lasers in a wide range of applications, multi-mode diode lasers in single emitter or array configuration (also called diode laser bars) have become the pump source of choice. When used as an optical pump source for fiber lasers, both diode laser types have certain advantages and disadvantages. The single-emitter has its advantages in the capability of being mass produced and its relatively good thermal management. On the other hand, the diode laser bar combines the advantages of optical brightness, the relatively small size compared to output power, and the ability of beam shaping of several emitters with few, monolithic optical elements. Through the development of specialized chip structures, specifically designed and optimized for the use in pump modules of fiber lasers, laser diode bars are used in automated production and fiber-coupling, whilst achieving a reduced thermal influence on neighboring emitters. Optimized Chip Geometry Traditionally, a laser diode bar can be described as an arrangement (array) of lithographically defined laser emitters on a very thin, epitaxially grown layer. This chip usually has a width of 10 mm and a resonator cavity of the emitters of 1 mm, which is approximately one order of magnitude smaller than the array width. These mono-crystalline semiconductor structures are broken along a plane perpendicular to the emitters. The exposed facet is subsequently equipped with a mirror coating. In the first uses of high-power diode lasers, the available optical power was usually limited by the damage threshold (COMD = catastrophic optical mirror damage) of the optical mirror coating on the facet, which led to power scaling by widening the emitters and increasing their numbers. This leads to a higher optical beam divergence, caused by the wider emitters, and to a higher thermal influence on neighboring emitters, known as thermal crosstalk, ultimately leading to the loss of beam-shaping for each single emitter. Further development in the field of optical facet coatings has led to much more robust mirrors, enabling power scaling by using greater resonator lengths and narrower emitters (lowering divergence) and greater distances between emitters (reducing thermal crosstalk). Such a diode laser bar has an almost square footprint, so the cavity

2 length is in the range of the array width, whilst having a number of emitters only 25% of that of standard bars. This leads to an active volume which is comparable to that of standard bars, leading to a similar optical output power. In scientific literature, these bars are often called Mini-Bars, Super-Bars or T-Bars (tailored bars). The large gap between the emitters also allows for the use of easily manufactured SAC-lens arrays (SAC = slow axis collimation) for the collimation of all emitters. The reduced divergence, caused by the reduced emitter size, also makes fiber-coupling notably easier. Automated hard-solder mounting techniques are already in use today for standard laser diode bars and are also implemented for the above-mentioned Mini-Bars. Due to the reduced width of these Mini-Bars, the flatness of the mounted bars (also known as smile) is greatly reduced when compared with a 10 mm wide laser diode bar. Due to this flatness, the subsequent optical alignment of FAC lenses (to collimate the divergence perpendicular to the mounting plane) and SAC lens arrays (to collimate each emitter in the mounting plane) is easier and can thus be automated. The Fiber-Coupled Base Module In order to build a fiber laser with few pump source coupling points, the individual pump modules should have the highest possible output powers. The initial goal was to build a module based on Mini-Bars with additionally simplified and therefore automatable optical concept, which serves as an equivalent to a pump source with standard bars at 976 nm with an output power of 135 W out of a 200 µm fiber (NA 0.2), cladding-mode free. Of course, increasing optical power is a further goal to reduce the costs per Watt whilst maintaining materialand manufacturing costs. Due to the high aspect ratio when coupling a single emitter (~ 100 µm width at ~ 1 µm height), the aperture of an optical fiber is not fully used. Suitable beam shaping and stacking of a whole number of emitters enables the aperture of the optical fiber to be fully used. In order to achieve this, several conduction-cooled Mini-Bars are arranged two-dimensionally onto a bottom cooled baseplate along with the necessary micro-optics for beam shaping. The mounting of these conduction-cooled Mini-Bars as well as the active alignment of the micro-optics is automated. The baseplate, equipped with Mini-Bars and micro-optics, can be seen like an automatically configurable circuit board. An important difference is the fact that the micro-optics need to be actively aligned under consideration of the parameters necessary for fibercoupling. Figure 1: Schematic principle of the baseplate of the fibercoupled base module [all pictures by DILAS]

3 The automation guarantees, combined with the active alignment of micro-optics, a very high level of reproducibility of the beam characteristics for the stacked and collimated beam and, thus, the fiber coupling. Robust Concepts Due to the aforementioned high consistency of the modules, it is not necessary to focus the collimated beam onto a fixed fiber when fiber coupling. Instead, these modules can be equipped with a detachable fiber, which, in turn, makes the set-up of a fiber laser easier. Figure 2: Characteristic curve and electro-optical efficiency of the fiber-coupled 976 nm base module which is specified with 135 W out of a 200 µm NA 0.2 fiber The fiber-coupled base module is specified with a cladding-mode free pump power of 135 W out of a 200 µm core fiber (NA 0.2) and a water-cooled SMA modestrip connector. These electro-optical parameters are achieved with a drive current of < 30 A and an operating voltage of < 12 V. Therefore, this module is practically driven at maximum efficiency, which will also increase lifetime. The robustness of this concept can already be seen in the characteristics curve, which doesn t show any thermal roll-over at much higher than specified drive currents. As mentioned, the medium term goal is to achieve an increase in power levels of the base module and the Mini-Bars contained herein, in order to specify 200 W output out of 200 µm, NA 0.2 at 976 nm. The compact size of the base module (130 x 65 x 39 [mm]) combined with the low weight of < 1 kg allows for a close arrangement of such modules. This makes it possible to use 12 pump modules, for example, to achieve a total pump power of 12 x 135 W = W, which is sufficient to create a 1 kw fiber laser. Pump modules using this technology are also implemented in products of our parent company, the Rofin-Group, such as the FL-Line series for example. Figure 3: Compact arrangement of the fibercoupled base modules, based on Mini-Bars

4 Highly Integrated Fiber-Coupled Modules A further scaling of output power is achieved by spatial overlapping and polarization multiplexing enabling a whole range of fiber-coupled modules at, currently, 976 nm. Figure 4: Family of fiber-coupled DILAS diode laser modules based on Mini-Bars Today, with up to four fully equipped and coupled base modules, an integrated laser diode module can achieve an output power of > 600 W out of 200 µm (NA 0.2). Obviously, standard SMA fibers cannot be used at these power levels, which currently leads to the use of high-power water-cooled fibers. Also, the spatial dimensions of these modules, currently 285 x 250 x 100 [mm], are still very compact. Figure 5: Characteristic curve and electro-optical efficiency of a fiber-coupled module based on four base modules at 976 nm (200 µm, NA 0.2) As all the described modules are specifically designed and engineered as pump modules for fiber lasers, optical sensors for power monitoring and temperature sensors, as well as protection filters against the fiber laser wavelength, are included. Regardless of the achieved, or theoretically achievable, optical output power levels, finally specified output power levels will orient themselves on the expected lifetime on the market.

5 Reduction of the Spectral Width With the use of Volume Bragg Gratings (VBG) the spectral width of the laser diode modules described above can also be reduced. These Bragg gratings are also able to be aligned automatically. The spectral width of such modules with VBG are typically < 1 nm at 90% contained power. Figure 5: Integrated fiber-coupled module (600 W, 200 µm, NA 0.2) as standard module, with and without VBG Summary The demonstrated concept shows the first generation of application specific optimized fiber laser pump modules, based on conduction-cooled Mini-Bars, manufactured with a high level of automated processes. With the fiber-coupled laser-diode base module (135 W, 200 µm, NA 0.2) first presented at Laser 2011 in Munich, the first in the series of power scalable modules is available. Modules with higher output power, up to 600 W, have been demonstrated and will be available after further optimizations. The used concept is open for the use of additional optical elements such as Volume Bragg Gratings (VBG) to reduce the spectral width and to force wavelength stabilization. Acknowledgements: The results demonstrated in this article are based on the results of numerous colleagues at DILAS Diodenlaser GmbH and our partners at various companies. Without the creativity, ideas and efforts of these colleagues, the described concept and its implementation would not have been possible. At this point the author would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who helped create this article. Some of the work was done under the support program Optische Technologien through the Federal Ministry for Education and Research ( Integriert-optische Komponenten für Hochleistungs-Laserstrahlquellen INLAS)

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