The use of fiber optics to transmit laser energy has important applications in areas as diverse as laser surgery, printing and marking, and industrial welding. For example, industrial welding, cutting, and heat treating require delivering high laser power to remote locations. In these and other applications fiber optics has some clear advantages over bulky and expensive articulated arms, i.e., moving tube-and-mirror systems. Fiber delivery systems are small, much more flexible than articulated arms, and less expensive. Large-core, MM silica fiber optics have been used to deliver several kilowatts of Nd:YAG laser power over tens of meters. In surgical laser systems, surgeons prefer delivery via fiber optics because the distal (output) end of a fiber gives the surgeon the tactile feel of a surgical instrument, and fibers can be inserted directly into the body through endoscopes for least-invasive procedures. From the earliest beginnings of IR fiber technology, it has been the dream of many to reliably transmit IR laser power for applications analogous to those employing silica fibers. As will be seen, the goal of a reliable IR laser power fiber optic has not been fully realized, but great progress has been made, largely through the use of hollow waveguides.
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