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Bosch teams up with European consortium to deliver grease-repellent metal surfaces

Home appliance giant Bosch is teaming up with the European photonics consortium LAMpAS to deliver a laser system capable of structuring metal surfaces to give them antibacterial, water-repellent and grease-repellent properties.

Such 'amphiphobic' structures could also be created on plastics and glass, meaning fluid-repellent surfaces could one day be found in dishwashers, fridges, worktops, ovens, and even sewage pipes.

The result would be home appliances that remain clean for longer periods of time, and the reduction of fatberg build-up in sewers.

The laser system under development within the LAMpAS project will use ultrashort laser pulses to structure metals by forming microscopic 'spikes' or 'ridges' on their surface, which act like a bed of nails and stop dirt or liquids attaching themselves. 

The structures are inspired by those found in nature on the leaves of a lotus flower or the skin of a springtail, which cause water and oil to simply 'roll off'. Similar micro-nano-structures reduce the build-up of bacteria meaning a surface never becomes dirty.

While surface coatings such as Teflon are currently used to make easy-to-clean products, they can suffer from drawbacks if the covering breaks apart, which can then emit toxic particles or gases. Using a laser to instead treat surfaces – a process known as 'surface functionalisation' – therefore provides an environmentally friendly and much safer alternative.

By teaming up with Bosch, the LAMpAS project consortium is looking to tailor sheet metal functionalisation to several different applications.

‘We are targeting related use cases: medical surfaces in hospitals, like stainless steel antibacterial surfaces; packaging machines in the pharma industry that need to be disinfected; machines in the food processing sector that need to be continually cleaned and where hygiene is paramount,’ said LAMpAS coordinator Professor Andrés Fabian Lasagni.

While sheet metal has previously been textured to repel water and bacteria, preventing fingerprints – and thus the build up of biofilm – remains a novel approach for laser-treated metal. 

Ultrafast laser processing at industrial speeds 

One key focus of the LAMpAS project (short for the 'high throughput Laser structuring with Multiscale Periodic feature sizes for Advanced Surface Functionalities') is producing such self-cleaning metal sheets on an industrial scale.

To do this, high-power, ultrashort-pulsed lasers are being used in combination with high-performance scanning heads, enabling high beam delivery speeds across the sheets.

‘Our laser system will allow us to treat more than 1m2 of sheet metal per minute, covering a potentially growing market that could reach nine-digit revenues per year in the home-appliance sector alone,’ remarked Lasagni. ‘With our innovative direct laser interference pattering (DLIP) polygon scanner head we will be able to treat metal with a 1.5kW novel picosecond-laser source, at scanning speeds over 100m/s.’

The consortium successfully demonstrated its first machine prototype in September. The prototype (seen below) incorperates a high-power picosecond laser in a setup composed of granite and a gantry. The materials chosen avoid any vibration and guarantee a flatness of below 3µm over the whole area. The optical beam path is composed of different components such a beam management system and different mirrors specially chosen for ultrafast pulses.

The first prototype LAMpAS system is able to texture metal with line-like DLIP patterns with a spatial period of 5.5µm and an average depth of 0.6µm. (Image: LAMpAS consortium).

At present, the LAMpAS team is focusing its expertise on flat metallic surfaces, but beyond the project see a broad market for large areas of other materials – for example plastics and glass. 

‘Anything that requires complete hygiene will benefit greatly from antibacterial surfaces such as hospital and operation environments that must be continually cleaned during surgical procedures,’ Lasagni concluded.

The €5.1 million LAMpAS project began in 2019 and includes partners: Next Scan Technology and Laser Engineering Applications (belgium); Trumpf and Bosch (Germany); the European Photonics Industry Consortium (France); and BSH Electrodomesticos Espana and New Infrared Technologies (Spain).

Discover more about LAMpAS

The webinar Surface functionalisation through microstructuring  further explores the technology behind laser-based functional surface texturing, with a particular focus on the LAMpAS project.