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European Appolo project concludes after four years

The European Appolo project, which was started with the aim of fostering connections between lasers producers, system integrators and end users, as well as speeding up the validation of new laser equipment, has concluded after four years. The project was undertaken by 36 laser and photonics partners from ten different countries.

A total of 37 innovations were made as a result of the multiple workpackages and experiments that took place within the project, twelve of which have now resulted in patents being submitted. The consortium partners expect to be able to generate sales of €76 million over the next five years with these innovations, and will be able to generate at least 66 additional jobs in the process.

Further discussions have led to a sustainability strategy that will ensure the Appolo HUB is kept in place both as a cooperation and a marketing and sales tool following the conclusion of the project. A cooperation agreement has also been signed among the project's regular partners.

Below are some of the achievements of the project's fourth and final year, the full range of which can be viewed here.

Work package two concluded with nearly all of its goals having been reached. This package oversaw the development of a set of optimised high throughput scribing processes by the Bern University of Applied Sciences (BUAS), which boast scribing velocities higher than 1m/s and were validated on R&D samples and functional modules on a float glass substrate produced by Swiss firm EMPA. The fibre-delivered ultrashort pulses of the scribing laser can be used to process thin-film solar cells. It was also shown in the work package that these optimised scribing processes are ready to be implemented in industrial scribing machines. Work package three, also featuring thin film solar cells, was finalised with the manufacturing of the first all-laser scribed mini-modules for perovskite thin-film cells. It was shown that these perovskite films can be ablated at very low fluences by almost any ultra-short pulse laser system, and a solar cell design was produced that will enable the development of semi-transparent modules. The modules fabricated as part of this work package were fully characterised by electrical measurements, proving a champion module efficiency of 10.7 per cent.

In the FAST experiment, an improved Scanlab scanning system was assessed by micromachining company Lightmotif, and new processes were developed for the fabrication of functional surface textures that technology firm SKF expressed an interest in for reducing friction in its products. Scanlab also implemented a fast pixel mode that enables the control of laser operations at a synchronised repetition rate of up to 3.2MHz. Additionally, the firm increased the speed of a precise laser patterning process to up to 2m/s with a high material removal rate, and applied it in the surface texturing of moulds. The process was demonstrated on an insert and removed 11.5mm³ of volume in around 30 minutes when using an average laser power of 5W.

The FASTGalvo experiment combined developments made by Scanlab and BUAS to ramp up the speed of laser processing using galvo scanners. As a result, the precise processing of small features is now feasible at speeds of 15m/s using Scanlab’s new Excelliscan scanner and RTC6 control board, as well as BUAS's advanced control. Performed experiments showed that the newly developed scanner technology enables increased acceleration values and marking speeds in numerous applications. Significant reduction in the overall machining time was observed at maintained and even improved machining quality. The technology was validated by Bosch in the fabrication of small structures, and by GE for the reopening of holes for cooling.

The main objective of the DECOUL-Cr experiment was to study the use of pulsed laser sources to induce changes in chromium-coated parts. Two different laser sources were used to produce LIPSS (laser-induced periodic surface structures) in chrome coated plates, and different effects were observed that offer new exciting aesthetics. The experiment reached its final goal of providing a validated technology for the automotive industry. Spanish firm Lasing developed the laser processing system used in the experiment, which is now ready to be integrated into manufacturing lines.

A modified sub-nanosecond high pulse energy laser was investigated and validated in the deep engraving of metals for jewellery in the SUN-JELL experiment, which showed promising results. This included using a water-assisted laser ablation technique, which was found to help prevent surface oxidation and debris formation on the jewellery. Material ablation rates reached 0.005-0.021mm3/s, while surface roughness was below 2µm using a laser power level of 12W. The SUN-JELL laser source was integrated into a laser machine, and performance was validated in deep engraving stainless steel, brass and gold for the Italian end user LAC.

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