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Startup to market laser technology for creating functionalised surfaces

A new start-up, Fusion Bionic, has been founded to develop and market laser technology for applying nano- and microstructures to surfaces.

The firm is a spin-off from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS. 

In recent years, researchers at Fraunhofer IWS and Technische Universität Dresden have developed an alternative method of permanently applying nano- and microstructures to surfaces: direct laser interference patterning (DLIP). This process incorporates the nano- or microstructure directly into the surface using a laser in order to create biomimetic effects.

The lotus effect, for example, uses a microstructure to allow any dirt that might stick to the surface to simply wash away the next time it rains. Meanwhile, the fine ripples of the shark skin effect improve the dynamics of air and water on the outside of airplanes and ships, thus saving fuel. While many such effects have previously been achieved using coatings or films, these can wear away, causing the desired effect to diminish over time.

The new laser method on the other hand requires no coatings or films. It is also remarkably quick, currently being able to handle up to one square metre of surface per minute. With the new technology being so promising, Fusion Bionic was founded this year to develop and market DLIP system solutions for biomimetic surface finishing, while also providing surface functionalisation services to its customers.

'For a long time, lasers were much too slow to be used for finishing surfaces with large areas compared to coating or applying films,' said Dr Tim Kunze, managing director of Fusion Bionic, who founded the company together with three partners. 'But with the DLIP process we’ve made the leap to processing large surface areas quickly.'

The DLIP process works by splitting a single laser beam into multiple clusters of beams. To apply a pattern to the surface, these multiple laser beams are superimposed in a controlled way to create what is known as an interference pattern. This pattern can then be distributed over a wider area, allowing surfaces with large areas to be processed rapidly.

During his time at Fraunhofer IWS, Kunze’ team worked closely with Professor Andrés Lasagni of Technische Universität Dresden and Airbus to develop a microstructure that prevents ice from building up on airplane wings during flight. Traditionally, this is achieved by piping hot exhaust air from the aircraft engines to the wings. However, this wastes energy from the engines. The project found that the energy required by an ice protection system decreased by 80 per cent when the wings also incorporate a DLIP microstructure. 

'This is an especially good solution for the electrically powered planes of the future, because those engines won’t generate any waste heat,' remarked Kunze. Other projects have worked on processing implants such as prosthetic hip joints and dental implants to make their surfaces especially biocompatible or antibacterial.

To accelerate the development of innovative surfaces, Fusion Bionic is working with the support of its investor, Avantgarde Labs Ventures, on a forecasting platform using artificial intelligence, intended to be used to develop advanced laser functionalities. In parallel, a multi-sensor laser processing test bench is being developed at Fraunhofer IWS that uses artificial intelligence to quickly predict and create the optimum surface structure for any problem.

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