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Looking back on LaserEMobility Workshop 2022

LaserEMobility Workshop 2022 was held in Bologna back in March, taking up the challenge of responding to the increasing industrial pull for laser-based manufacturing systems in the production of electric vehicles.

The requirement for reducing the carbon footprint of mobility is driving electrification. By 2040, half of the world´s car fleet is expected to be electric. Novel solutions to mobility and transport based on electric vehicles such as drones, trains, air taxis, ships, and boats are therefore being developed.

The manufacturing of existing vehicle types and also novel ones incorporate a series of laser-based manufacturing processes.

New electric vehicles will be composed of fewer components and require more welding operations for the battery packs, the electric motors, and the lightweight body parts.

The laser stands out as a flexible, digital tool that can be shaped to carry out welding, cutting, trimming, texturing, heat treatment, and coating applications. For responding to the rapidly changing product specifications, laser-based processes are directly integrated at the design phase rather than as an option for one-to-one replacement of existing manufacturing processes.

The LaserEMobility section of AITeM – Italian Manufacturing Association was founded in 2020 by the Politecnico di Milano, the University of Bologna, and the Technical University of Munich along with the industrial members IMA Automation Atop, Manz, and Raylase. The founding members have committed themselves to the objective to create a network for an effective exchange of know-how in the e-mobility field where lasers are being adopted numerously. The LaserEMobility Workshop 2022 was organized as a two-day international event to underline the necessity to collaborate on a wider scale, as Europe needs to avoid future dependency on generating, storing, and using electricity within its next-generation vehicles. The workshop was held in a hybrid format with in-person participants at the venue in Bi-Rex Competence Centre and online participants following the live stream. In terms of content and participation, LaserEMobility has been the first of its kind. An event organized by a collaboration of industry and academia, LaserEMobility gave the word to laser source and component producers, laser system integrators, and end-users gathering all the sector´s key players under a single roof. Within the five technical sessions spanning over the two-day event, 24 presentations were given reaching an audience of more than 500 registered attendees from more than 20 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America.

The event took off on the first day with opening greetings from Stefano Cattorini, Managing Direct of Bi-Rex, Alfredo Liverani, Director of Industrial Engineering Department at the University of Bologna, Luca Settineri, the President of AITEM, and Vincenzo Colla, Councilor for Economic Development and Green Economy, Employment, Training at Emilia-Romagna Region underlining the commitment of the stakeholders in Italy to the development of the e-mobility sector.

Prof. Alessandro Fortunato from the University of Bologna later gave the start to the technical session starting from “Advanced sources, beam shaping, and monitoring”. A series of technical presentations from the key laser source and component manufacturers underlined the recent capabilities of beam manipulation in space, time, and wavelength domains tailored to the e-mobility applications.

Thomas Hofmeister from Coherent took the stage, demonstrating the current capabilities of laser systems with  flexible temporal control over ring and core beam modes in Coherent´s Adjustable Ring Mode fiber lasers applied especially to copper and aluminum welding operations in e-drives and battery packs. Matthias Beranek from Trumpf followed, illustrating the recent beam capabilities of the company spanning from NIR to green wavelengths with integrated inline monitoring solutions fit to the welding of hairpins and battery packs. Later on, Stefano Cattaneo of IPG Photonics later on showed how the various laser solutions of the company from pulsed to continuous wave sources can be matched to a series of operations from battery foil cutting and texturing to welding with integrated process stations. Next, Giovanni Masotti of ElEn depicted CO2 lasers for isolator stripping of hairpins, underlining the ongoing relevance of these established laser sources in the e-mobility field. Afterwards, Salvatore Salerno of Optoprim showed the company´s approach to providing source and beam steering solutions, emphasizing blue wavelength for copper processing. The last speech of the morning was from Philippe Leopold of Lumentum, who highlighted the role of clean and high-quality laser cutting operations on the performance of battery foils.

The companies presenting in the first part of the “Advanced sources, beam shaping, and monitoring” session.

After the morning session, the lunch break took place in the exhibition area in Bologna, giving the participants on site the possibility to visit the desks of the sponsor companies. After a long absence of in person conferences and meetings due to the global pandemic, the face-to-face interaction was highly appreciated.

The afternoon session of the first day was opened by Johannes Kriegler of the Technical University of Munich, who highlighted the importance of international collaboration in the field, followed by speeches related to process monitoring.

Jens Reiser from Precitec illustrated the critical role of monitoring approaches in battery welding applications with inline photodiodes and optical coherence tomography as well as dedicated data analysis methods. Next, Richard Steinbrecht of Lessmüller showed how optical coherence tomography can be flexibly applied to monitor welding of battery connectors, battery cases, and e-drive components, highlighting the staggering number of welds exceeding millions per year to be controlled in the automotive manufacturing. Subsequently, Jan Habedank and Wolfgang Lehmann gave insights into the solutions of Raylase for dynamic pre-focusing deflection units for battery and e-drive processing with adaptability to large areas and the possibility for an integration of monitoring solutions in a parallel optical line. As the final technical presentation of the day, Luca Porcelluzzi of MKS Instruments brought the audience’s attention to the need for qualifying and monitoring the beam quality in e-mobility laser processes employing dedicated sensors for beam distribution and caustic analysis. 

At this point, the online part of the Workshop was finished, while the in-person participants moved towards a brainstorming session moderated by Antonio Raspa of EPIC. The four discussion topics included lasers in interconnected production systems, lasers for hydrogen fuel cells, innovative laser process-material combinations, and the upcoming role of lasers in energy production, storage, and delivery. The results of the fruitful discussions will be elaborated by the moderator and the organizing team for a future article.

More than 120 participants followed LaserEMobility in presence in Bologna with more than 500 registered attendees to the event.

The second day of LaserEMobility was opened by Prof. Ali Gökhan Demir of the Politecnico di Milano, who is responsible for the LaserEMobility section in AITeM. Prof. Demir made an open call for partners to develop benchmarking studies and to facilitate Ph.D. studentships for providing suitable measures and methods for evaluating the numerous laser solutions available in the market.

The second day started with the “End-users and future prospects session”. Some of the most important brands of the Italian automotive and motorsport excellence participated to the discussion, confirming the constant and decisive movement towards electrification and the importance of academia for the identification of manufacturing solutions. Roberto Canè of Ducati showcased the MotoE V21L electric motorcycle prototype confirming the criticality of the used manufacturing processes, including the laser-based ones, for the design and production of reliable motorsport equipment. Luca Poggio of Ferrari depicted laser-based welding of the hairpins for the e-drive manufacturing in the hybrid vehicles and the importance of maintaining manufacturing in-house for the next generation of high-end sports cars. Stefano Mazzetti of Lamborghini discussed challenges in electrified car manufacturing and energy generation evolving around the next generation Terzo Millenio. The session ended with a presentation of Luca Vescovi from Dallara, who stated that in the world of motorsport manufacturing innovations are highly demanded. Mr. Vescovi emphasized that laser applications span from the production of electric vehicles to autonomous cars and informed the participants that in Formula 1 the laser additively manufactured parts already can exceed 30% of the vehicle´s components.

The companies presenting in the “End-users and future prospects session” session.

The morning continued with the “From process to system” session. Davide Chesi from IMA Automation ATOP illustrated the company´s extensive research in laser hairpin stripping and laser welding with an emphasis on internal standardization and monitoring approaches for traceability. Following, Giorgio Balugani of Manz provided a comprehensive analysis of laser-based cutting, trimming, and welding processes in the production of battery cells showing how the processes interact in integrated production lines. Later, Luca Tomesani of Nextema discussed the company’s laser system solutions for prototyping battery cells with integrated monitoring systems. Anisa Kapxhiu from Marposs gave the last presentation of the morning, showing the integrated functional testing of battery modules after laser welding to assess the electrical properties prior to use. 

The afternoon continued with presentations from system integrators, moderated by Prof. Alessandro Ascari of the University of Bologna. Davide Spazian of BorgWarner presented several components of electric cars, from power electronics to power train as well as charging stations, where the laser processes are employed. Giuliano Ellena of Podium Tech later described how the company develops high-precision laser welding of the batteries to avoid excessive heating in the weld seam vicinity and the importance of mechanical testing for the electrical connections. Andrea Tagliaferri of Augmenta closed the session presenting integrated robotic laser welding solutions using artificial intelligence. Furthermore, Mr. Tagliaferri provided an overview of intelligent design approaches for e-mobility components.

Attendees during the brainstorming session.

LaserEMobility Research was the last session devoted to academic contributions from the organizing universities with presentations of young researchers. Erica Liverna from the University of Bologna, Leonardo Caprio from the Politecnico di Milano, and Sophie Grabmann from the Technical University of Munich showed complementary aspects of laser-based manufacturing research from process conception, optimization and monitoring to laser safety.

The event ended with a roundtable discussion with all the presenters contributing. The final message was clear on the needs for collaboration and expanding laser applications beyond battery and drive systems with an expansion of the range of materials beyond metals. The participants confirmed the role of academia to create the scientific and technical network and to help with the generation of technical knowledge required in the sector. LaserEMobility 2022 was organized with the fundamental contribution of the sponsors Coherent, ElEn, IPG, Lessmüller, Lumentum, MKS, Optoprim, Precitec, and Trumpf, as well as the support of Applicazioni Laser and EPIC.

The initial establishment of the workshop in 2022 has provided important feedback to shape the editions of the upcoming years. LaserEMobility 2023 will be held in Milan in early March 2023, adopting a new formula integrating industrial and academic contributions in a two-day event. The event will move towards providing technical data and benchmarking analysis highly demanded by the community. The following editions will circulate among the partner universities maintaining the international profile of the LaserEMobility community. In the meanwhile, the organizing committee welcomes suggestions and contributions. The companies interested in joining the LaserEMobility community to face mutual challenges around laser-based processes in electric mobility production can directly contact the authors of the article. The presentations and the workshop recordings are available here and through the QR code.

Article by: Ali Gökhan Demir, Politecnico di Milano; Alessandro Fortunato, Università di Bologna; Alessandro Ascari, Università di Bologna; Michael F. Zäh, Technical University of Munich

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