New control system enables up to 100 laser machines to be configured, monitored and updated simultaneously

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Up to 100 laser systems can be controlled and configured using the new system. (Image: Fraunhofer ILT)

Fraunhofer ILT and RWTH Aachen University scientists have developed a system for controlling and monitoring up to 100 laser systems simultaneously.

The control system enables the automatic and remote installation of software for new lasers in just a few minutes and has already been running successfully at Fraunhofer ILT for two years.

Numerous sensors and components control laser machines and guide their processes, all governed by equally complex software. In industrial production, many such systems are often used in parallel, and it is not uncommon to have 50 of them side by side.

‘With the current programmable logic controllers, you can control one device quite well, but hardly a dozen or even 100 at the same time,’ said Moritz Kröger, a research associate at the Chair for Laser Technology LLT at RWTH Aachen University, an associated chair at Fraunhofer ILT. He added that in the context of controlling 50 to 100 lasers, conventional concepts would foreseeably not be sufficient for installing new software for these systems and evaluating sensor data in real time.

To overcome this challenge, the ILT scientists have developed a control system using open source software that grants more compatibility and development options for distributed systems. This way, they are able to control and optimise laser processing operations that take into account data from scanner controls, sensor data from different sources and analysis data during the ongoing process. The system can automatically install, scale and maintain application programs on distributed computing systems. 

The project started in 2018 and the control system is now running stably in the beta phase at the ILT, where the institute uses it to distribute software and analyse applications of ultrafast laser systems.

The control system can be used to crontol and analyse ultrafast laser applications. (Image: Fraunhofer ILT) 

‘In five minutes, we can implement the software and hardware connection for a new laser, including integration into the cloud-based environment,’ said Kröger. 

Research is currently being conducted into the automatic evaluation of measurement data, with the goal being to combine data from as many systems as possible and have it graphically prepared for users. In the future, the process on the laser systems is to be optimised from the data in the field of artificial intelligence via machine learning.

Realising Industry 4.0

In the Cluster of Excellence ‘Internet of Production’, 200 scientists at RWTH Aachen University in cooperation with Fraunhofer ILT have set up a data centre for controlling and monitoring numerous industrial processes, based on the concept of the ILT’s control system.

The engineers are working on the digitalisation of manufacturing technology, with goals to increase and simplify cross-domain collaboration as well as to securely bundle all relevant data from many different sources in real-time, and all in the context of cyber-physical systems and Industry 4.0.

More than 35 university and non-university research institutions as well as three Fraunhofer Institutes – FIT, ILT and IPT – are involved. More than 50 companies and associations are represented on the advisory board. They come from the automotive and aerospace industries, mechanical and plant engineering, as well as from the software sector.

The chosen open source software for the data centre and control system, Kubernetes, was originally designed by Google and is supported by leading cloud platforms including Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, Red Hat OpenShift, Amazon EKS, Google Kubernetes Engine and Oracle OCI.

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