ultraSURFACE – Summary and Implementation

Project Summary

 

In nearly every sector of industrial manufacturing a broad spectrum of surface processing techniques is used, e.g. for structuring, coating or polishing of aesthetical or functional surfaces. In the last years laser based surface processing techniques have made tremendous technical progress and are now entering industrial manufacturing on a broad scale. Reduced prices for short and ultra-short pulsed lasers and enhanced reliability promote especially laser structuring while new developments in the processing techniques are fostering laser polishing and laser thin-film processing.

Figure 1a: Laser structured hydrophobic surface

Figure 1a: Laser structured hydrophobic surface

Figure 1b: Laserpolished blowmould

Figure 1b: Laserpolished blowmould

Figure 1c: Automotive parts with laser functionalised thin-films for wear protection

Figure 1c: Automotive parts with laser functionalised thin-films for wear protection

Laser structuring can achieve small structures on a sub-millimetre down to micrometre scale (Figure 1a). In particular, ultra-short pulsed lasers provide unique possibilities to manufacture smallest structures with highest demands on accuracy and quality. But for many applications the low throughput is still limiting this technique to the processing of moulding tools rather than the direct processing of the work piece itself.

Laser polishing is based on remelting a thin surface layer and smoothing the surface due to the surface tension. Starting from a metallic surface with an initial roughness of Ra = 1 - 10 μm laser polishing can achieve a roughness of Ra = 0.1 - 0.5 μm (depending on the material and its homogeneity). First industrial applications already show the potential of this new technology (Figure 1b) but there are still limitations which are preventing a broad industrial impact. The main limitations are a relatively low throughput and an enormous effort to establish this technique for new materials and 3D work pieces.

Laser thin-film processing is a powerful tool for improving the performance of technical components e.g. regarding wear, corrosion or electrical conductivity (Figure 1c). Thin film processing is often a 2-step process involving the deposition of the film followed by a heat treatment. For heat treatment lasers represent a versatile alternative to conventional methods and enable processing of thermally sensitive substrates. Especially the ability to treat layers locally and selectively opens up new possibilities. Nevertheless, in many fields of application this technique requires long processing times and is not adaptable for complex three-dimensional components yet.

 

In summary in many applications these laser based surface processing techniques already achieve highest precision and quality, but often the throughput is limiting the industrial capability.

State of the art for these and many other applications in laser surface processing is the utilization of one round laser beam (Figure 2 left). For processing in a meandering pattern the throughput TP (parts per time) can be calculated as

 

To increase the throughput the process parameters ,  and  needs to be increased while the non-productive time  should be decreased. The idea of ultraSURFACE is to increase the throughput for laser surface processing by at least a factor of 10 without any drawbacks in the quality of the processing results by using sophisticated optics for specific laser beam manipulation (Figure 2 right).

Figure 2: Overall concept of ultraSURFACE

Figure 2: Overall concept of ultraSURFACE

Therefore two different optics concepts will be realized and combined with fast and synchronized mechanics, scanner and optics control. Everything is built into a machine specialized for fast laser surface processing.

Optics Concept 1 refers to a dynamic and flexible beam-shaping approach with piezo-deformable mirrors which enables the realization and the fast adaption of application specific intensity distributions. This will allow significant increase in feed speed and track offset and therefore in throughput.

Figure 3: Optics concepts of ultraSURFACE

Figure 3: Optics concepts of ultraSURFACE

Optics Concept 2 is a beam-splitting approach which allows simultaneous processing with multiple laser beams and thus a significant increase in throughput.

For both concepts the implementation of prototypes is planned as well as their industrial validation in different fields of application (laser structuring, laser polishing, laser thin-film processing).

Impact

 

ultraSURFACE will provide innovative Ultra Dynamic Optical Systems and will therefore be an enabling technology for the European industry in the field of high throughput laser surface processing. In nearly every sector of industrial manufacturing, surfaces of components are processed e.g. polished, coated, or structured. ultraSURFACE focuses on the improvement of optical systems, real-time adaption and processing strategies for high throughput laser surface processing and thus addresses the entire market of laser industrial manufacturing.

Today, existing laser surface processing systems do not fulfil the requirements of throughput and flexibility demanded by the industries. ultraSURFACE will enhance both throughput and flexibility significantly. Thus, laser-based processing will exceed the break-even point in comparison with conventional surface processing techniques. This will be a breakthrough for high throughput laser processing in nearly all branches of industrial manufacturing.

The impact of ultraSURFACE will have strong influence on the following branches of industries:

  • Automotive Industry: High quality products in connection with low costs are of great importance. This results in the requirement of processes with high throughput.
  • Mechanical Engineering: Surfaces need to be processed e.g. to ensure wear resistivity, corrosion resistivity or frictional behaviour. Surface shapes are often freeform surfaces.
  • Consumer Products: Outstanding surface qualities are necessary for aesthetical and/or technical reasons.

 

The impact of ultraSURFACE provokes a significant reduction of manufacturing costs and time and strongly enhances throughput. The processing costs will expectedly be reduced by at least 50 % and production time will expectedly be decreased by at least 70 % in comparison with conventional techniques. This high performance improvement makes laser-based surface processing systems commercially efficient. Regarding to this benefit, ultraSURFACE will have strong impacts on the European market for laser surface processing systems which divides into the following two sectors:

  • Surface Processing Machines: To keep up with the competition laser-based surface processing machines need to be most cost-saving. ultraSURFACE paves the way for the introduction of laser-based surface processing machines in the European and world market due to reduced manufacturing costs, high throughput and high manufacturing quality.
  • Optical Systems: Optical systems with dynamic and synchronized 3D-adaptability are necessary for an increase of throughput and flexibility in surface processing. ultraSURFACE will transfer research results to industrial applications.

The market share of optical systems for laser material processing 5 years after project termination is expected to increase from 470 million Euros to 940 Million Euros.

Furthermore ultraSURFACE will improve working conditions in the sector of surface processing by

  • reducing noise disturbance and dispersible dust – especially heavy metal dust
  • no usage of chemicals solutions
  • reducing CO2 emission up to 80 %.

Thus the project will have a significant contribution to promote green manufacturing in Europe.