New femtosecond laser to boost automotive production

A new femtosecond laser capable of cutting and shaping ultra-high-strength boron steel a thousand times faster than existing technology is being developed for the automotive industry.

The new ultrashort pulse laser, under development within the European project ‘PULSE’, will not only decrease automotive manufacturing times by two-thirds, but will also reduce waste products by 10 per cent and cut chassis costs by 5 per cent. The technology has received a €5 million development grant from the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 programme. 

Boron steel, which is used in car bodies because of its high strength, is so durable that it is often difficult to cut or shape. While the material can be cut using a plasma arc torch, this is not as precise or as quick as using a pulse laser.

However, according to Dr Regina Gumenyuk, coordinator of the PULSE project, the laser technology that exists today for cutting boron steel is currently far too slow to be used in large-scale production.

The new femtosecond laser under development will therefore have an average power of 2.5kW, or 100kW in a single pulse, and repetition rates up to 1GHz, making it powerful enough to cut the hardest boron steel used in car construction at one cubic centimetre per minute – one thousand times faster than existing technology currently ablating boron steel at one cubic millimetre per minute.

‘By harnessing the unique characteristics of patent-protected tapered double-clad fibre amplifiers and a power-scaled multichannel laser, the PULSE project will create unparalleled high-power beam qualities of M2<1.1, and pulse energies between 2.5-250µJ,’ Gumenyuk commented.

The new laser will offer the control required to etch moulds for vehicle parts with micron-scale accuracy, as well as enable improved digital design in order to lighten vehicle chassis weight – with benefits to fuel economy and increase the range of electric vehicles.

The PULSE project is coordinated by Tampere University in Finland and involves eleven research institutions and industry partners from six different European countries:

  • Aston University, UK
  • Modus Research and Innovation, UK
  • Ampliconyx, Finland
  • Lunovu, Germany
  • Hochschule Mittweida, Germany
  • Nanotypos, Greece
  • Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas, Greece
  • Prime Laser Technology Iliaka Systimata Thermansi Anonimi Viomichaniki Emporiki Etaireia, Greece
  • Centro Richerche Fiat, Italy
  • Onostampi, Italy
  • Ceram Optec, Latvia

The consortium expects a prototype of the new laser to be ready by 2021.