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EHLA developers win Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis

The developers of Extreme High-Speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA), a process that can be used to coat, repair or additively manufacture components in an economical and environmentally friendly way, have been awarded first prize of the Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis 2018.

The award, endowed with 50,000 euros, will be presented on 21 September to Thomas Schopphoven of Fraunhofer ILT, along with his colleagues Andres Gasser, also of Fraunhofer ILT, and Gerhard Maria Backes, the chair of digital additive production at RWTH Aachen University. The ceremony will take place at Trumpf’s headquarters in Ditzingen, Germany

EHLA, based on laser material deposition (LMD), overcomes the low processing speed of standard LMD by melting the metal powder particles directly in the laser beam rather than in the weld pool. In doing this the process speed can be increased from a maximum of a few metres per minute to up to 500 metres per minute, and the producible layer thickness can be decreased from over 500µm down to 10-250µm. Thanks to these two innovations, EHLA can be used as an alternative to the hard chrome plating with controversial chromium (VI) compounds or thermal spraying.

EHLA can be used to coat, repair or additively manufacture components in an economical and environmentally friendly way. (Image: Fraunhofer ILT)

‘The EHLA process is particularly suitable for the automotive industry, such as for the coating of brake discs, which were previously difficult to coat because of the high loads and high demands on efficiency and environmental friendliness,’ said Schopphoven, head of the productivity and systems engineering team in the Laser Material Deposition Group at Fraunhofer ILT.

The laser innovation prize of the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung foundation has been awarded every other year since 2000 for outstanding research and development on the application or generation of laser light.

‘In the laser industry, this is one of the world’s top-class awards,’ remarked Schopphoven. ‘We are extremely pleased about the recognition of our work on energy- and resource-efficient production with laser light.’ The Aachen researchers have already been honoured with second place of the Steel Innovation Prize by the German steel industry this year, and were previously awarded the Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize in 2017, both for the development of EHLA.

Many of the customers currently ordering EHLA systems are based in China. In 2017, Aachen-based ACunity – a spin-off of Fraunhofer ILT – supplied various machines to the Advanced Manufacture Technology Center in Beijing, including a five-axis system with specially tailored EHLA nozzle technology. A Chinese company has also recently decided to purchase three large-scale EHLA systems to apply eco-friendly coatings to offshore hydraulic cylinders.

Plenty more orders are likely to follow, according to ACunity managing director Chen Hong: ‘Demand for the EHLA process is huge, because China is also set to emulate the European model by regulating hard chrome plating over the course of the next two years.’

Second prize of the Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis has been awarded to the project group DELPHI for the industrial application of femtosecond laser lithography in integrated optics. Third prize went to Professor Jürgen Popp and Professor Ute Neugebauer of the Institute of Physical Chemistry at Jena University, for developing a laser-based method for the rapid determination of antibiotic resistance.

Thumbnail caption: Juror Prof. Wolfgang Marquardt (Chairman of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich, left) and award winner Thomas Schopphoven from Fraunhofer ILT at the announcement of the winners of the Berthold Leibinger Innovationspreis 2018. (Image: Fraunhofer ILT)

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