A Fraunhofer ILT-led team of engineers has ushered in a paradigm shift in manufacturing by using numerous laser beams as tools to structure surfaces.
The multi-laser beam solution makes it a perfect fit for the value chain, and is affordable enough for medium-sized enterprises to adopt it.
Initiated as part of the MultiSurf project, this ultrashort pulse laser technology was co-developed by Fraunhofer ILT’s Dr. Arnold Gillner, Martin Reininghaus and Dr. Johannes Finger; Schepers GmbH & Co’s Dr. Stephan Brüning; Matthews International GmbH’s Dr. Gerald Jenke; EdgeWave GmbH Innovative Laser Solutions’ Dr. Keming Du; and LIMO GmbH’s Dr. Manfred Jarczynski.
Their efforts have also won them a science prize from ‘Stifterverband für Verbundforschung’ – a donors’ association for joint research.
Ultrashort pulse lasers are used for applying functional microstructures and nanostructures to any surface.
This type of laser machining is usually done by just one beam from a single source – a far too time-consuming and expensive approach – that limits its application to large embossing rollers for imprinting textures and patterns on fabrics, leather and cardboard.
The ILT-led team has now managed to split the laser energy into many laser beams of equal power – specifically, into 200 partial beams.
They have also developed a special optical system to control these beams individually and modulate their power. This has created a new digitally-driven tool.
With so many of these tools working the surface simultaneously, the scientists contend that the process is many times faster than conventional laser machining.
It also happens to be the first affordable option for machining large components.
“We’re practicing something akin to the art of tool cloning here,” says Gillner, head of department at Fraunhofer ILT.
“This marks a paradigm shift in manufacturing given that it was always just one tool that was used in the past.”
Schepers and LIMO are already working on an eight-beam laser structuring system, with Matthews International GmbH using the new laser process to produce press cylinders.
Image and content: Banczerowski/Fraunhofer ILT