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EU project to develop programmable ultrafast laser micromachining solution

A new EU-funded project is developing a programmable, intelligent beam delivery solution capable of achieving defect-free ultrafast laser processing.

The solution will be tested in three separate industrial applications with the goal of achieving energy savings of at least 30% compared to conventional processes currently used.

The four-year EU-funded METAMORPHA project was launched in September to bring together the latest technology, process knowledge and control know-how in a single laser solution.

The solution will take advantage of devices known as liquid crystal modulators, with which an ultrafast laser beam can be freely shaped with high temporal resolution, as well as split into multiple sub-beams. Two such modulators from Fraunhofer ILT, each capable of handling up to 150W of laser power and changing beam shape over 60 times per second, will be used in the new solution.

These will be combined with a machine-learning-powered control system that will monitor, optimise and regulate the process parameters in a closed loop. This will ensure parts can be produced completely free of defects using ‘made-to-measure’ ultrafast laser micromachining.

What’s more, after sufficient learning, the data from the control system could be used to simulate micromachining beforehand, allowing optimum process parameters to be predefined.

Once developed, the new solution will be tested by the three industrial partners of the project: Thyssenkrupp, Ceratizit and Philips. Each partner has an application for which the new solution could introduce dramatic savings in both energy and resources.

At Thyssenkrupp, it will be used to structure embossing rolls. These are currently processed by electrical discharge machining, which consumes more than 10GWh per year, of which ultrafast laser micromachining is expected to save 90%. Thanks to precise restructuring of worn surfaces with the laser, the lifespan of the embossing rollers should also be increased ten-fold. 

Ceratizit plans to use the solution to manufacture carbide punches and embossing dies, and recondition worn-out tools – all faster and more economically. Philips is looking to greatly simplify product manufacturing for the consumer sector through using ultrafast laser micromachining.

The partners of the METAMORPHA project (Made-to-measure micromachining with laser beams tailored in amplitude and phase) include: Fraunhofer ILT (coordinator), RWTH Aachen University - Chair of Optical Systems Technology, LASEA, Universitat Politècnica de València, Datapixel, fentISS, Arditec, Vivid Components Germany, Ceratizit, Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe, and Philips Consumer Lifestyle.

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