The first experiment in laser materials processing which was subsequently to evolve into a significant industrial process, was conducted in May 1967 when Peter Houldcroft used an oxygen assist gas to cut 1mm thick steel sheet with a focused CO2 laser beam. Using archive photographs and early film, this paper will describe the pioneering work on laser cutting using a 300W slow flow CO2 laser. This laser was operational in the UK only two years after Patel had demonstrated lasing action from the CO2 molecule. Early examples of laser cutting will be shown and reference made to the predictions of the early experimentalists. The paper will also discuss the evolution of the fast axial flow CO2 laser and its subsequent use to produce the first keyhole laser welds.

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