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Laser machine cuts and welds bipolar plates for hydrogen fuel cells

TopLamp Machine

Researchers from Korea and Germany have developed a machine for the cutting and welding of thin bipolar plates in the production of hydrogen fuel cells.

The machine, capable of welding and cutting materials down to 0.075mm in thickness, is now in operation at contract manufacturer BBW Lasertechnik in Prutting, Germany.

Fuel cells used for vessels and aeroplanes are becoming increasingly lighter which has led to a decline in the thickness of bipolar plates, key multi-functional components forming the backbone of hydrogen fuel cells. Consequently manufacturers now require the ability to weld and cut large-scale thin plates of various forms with exceptionally high quality.

The researchers, from the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM), K-Lab (a Korean SME), Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and BBW Lasertechnik therefore set out to develop a new 2D on-the-fly composite machine that wields a scanner-stage combination to deliver  realtime cross-coupling control technology (2D on-the-fly), whereby the stage continuously moves through an algorithm to generate an optimal route for the beam, while the scanner simultaneously corrects for position errors.

The machine, called Top-Lamp, can weld and cut areas up to 400mm x 400mm and beyond in various forms. The cutting gas nozzle can be attached separately to the scanner or another stage. The system enhances machining quality by reducing cross-coupling errors via a vision system embedded in the scanner, which corrects the centre position for laser beam irradiation at the nozzle throat. It enables the high-speed welding and partial cutting of bipolar plates at the same time, helping reduce costs and processing times for manufacturers.

Installed in February at BBW Lasertechnik, it is now in operation, welding and cutting bipolar plate materials down to 0.075mm in thickness.

“The newly developed technology is meaningful in that it can respond to the demands from the fuel cell market for the improvement of machining quality as the thickness of bipolar plates for fuel cells becomes increasingly thinner,” said Principal Researcher Su-jin Lee of KIMM. “The German research team is also expecting that the latest technology, developed through international joint research, will be applicable to various sectors.” 

The Top-Lamp project (Technology platform for advanced laser beam processes of metallic fuel cell plates) was carried out with the support of the “development of advanced laser machining technologies for the manufacture of fuel cells” international co-development project of the Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. The project follows on from an MoU signed between KIMM and Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in May 2022, which aimed to expand international cooperation and sustainable networking among researchers at the two institutes.

Image: KIMM

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