How to Use Lasers Properly

By Dan Goldsmith on Feb 11, 2015


Ed. Note: We're joined in the Lounge this week by Dan Goldsmith, President of X-Laser!  We've had more and more requests for lasers on UsedLighting.com, but the purchase of them always comes with questions - how do I use them, are they safe, etc.  Dan was kind enough to take the time to break down for all of us how you can add lasers to your nightclub, event rentals, or any production safely and easily.  After reading the article, if you're ready to give lasers a try, visit our selection of used or new X-laser products here on the site.  They're certain to meet all of the requirements spelled out below.  Take it away Dan!

The use of high powered lasers in theatrical and concert lighting has exploded in recent years due, in part, to the advent of new technologies that make integrating lasers into designs easier, and more cost effective than ever before. It used to be that a laser show was just for rock concerts or your local planetarium, but now lasers are being used in an ever increasing number ways from creating virtual scenery likes cages or walls, to creating extremely high contrast digital signage, to immersing audiences inside of 3D shapes and effects. The visual effects that can be accomplished with laser are virtually endless and are enabled by laser’s unique optical properties such as having no focal distance.

Virtually any well collimated laser can travel hundreds of feet, or even miles, with only a minor loss in intensity. This also means that lasers can put significant amounts of power on target creating punchy, high contrast effects even in the presence of powerful wash lighting. A laser of only a few milliwatts can be visible even within an intense white beam from most modern profile moving lights.

"Sounds cool Dan, but is it safe?"

 
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People sometimes worry about the legal and safety issues surrounding laser. Here are the facts: First, there has never been an injury reported to regulatory authorities in the U.S. from a legal high powered entertainment laser, ever. That’s a pretty amazing safety record, and it comes from most folks operating lasers with common sense (like not shooting people in the face with the beam) and with modest training supplied by better manufacturers. If you are worried about the risk of operating a laser, we would remind you that tens of thousands of people from mobile DJ’s to museums operate high powered lasers everyday while maintaining a virtually perfect record of safety. Its not as difficult as you might imagine, and real world experience has demonstrated for the last couple of decades that the margins of safety are far greater than most people realize.

"Ok, but is it difficult to get licensed?"

It has never been easier to get licensed to use a high powered laser. The process involves less than $50 in most cases, 30 minutes of your time to complete the application and several weeks of waiting for your application to be approved by FDA. Once approved, your variance is good for two years and will renew indefinitely if you submit an Annual Report which takes about 20 minutes to complete each year.

"How do I make sure I get a safe product?"

The ease and reliability of this process, as well as the safety of the product, really comes down to the manufacturer you chose to work with. We strongly recommend that you consider the reliability of the manufacturer above price, because in the world of high powered lasers you can often get a cheaper product that you can’t actually get licensed to use - meaning that you have a several thousand dollar paperweight. You may also find that advertisements about safety, compliance and so forth really don’t match reality in some cases. There is a simple way you can check out any prospective manufacturer you may want to work with to protect your business.

Visit www.regulations.gov. In the upper right hand corner simply type in the name of the manufacturer. Whatever results you get can be filtered by agency in the left hand toolbar. Select “FDA” and read what you get. What you are looking for is a large number of “approved” customer variances, not applications. If you get nothing, that’s a pretty bad sign because everyone who buys a laser has to get a variance. If they don’t have a lot of approved customer variances either they don’t have any customers, or FDA wont approve their variances probably due to a problem with their products.

This can be tricky, but doing this check is the single most important step to protect your business from liability and fines, and your reputation. Do not import lasers from overseas without guidance from FDA as to what you are allowed to bring in, and how. If you have questions, contact FDA at http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/default.htm or the International Laser Display Association Regulatory Committee at regulatory@laserist.org.

Powerful and safe laser shows have never been easier to access and use to great effect. There are loads of resources out there to help you along your way and the International Laser Display Association (www.laserist.org) can be a wealth of knowledge to keep you from making costly mistakes and ensure your success. With just a bit of effort and interest high powered laser shows can be within your reach!

  

Dan Goldsmith is the President of X-Laser, one of the leading manufacturers of high powered entertainment lasers in the world. In addition to providing effect design and laser safety officer expertise to large touring and production clients, Dan chairs the Regulatory Committee for the International Laser Display Association which serves to interface between worldwide regulatory agencies and members of industry. Dan also sits on the Board of Directors of the International Laser Display Association and lectures extensively on entertainment laser technology, safety, and compliance.

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