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Cloud-based Software Controls Laser Systems

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A data center-based system to control and monitor industrial processes has been introduced by a team at RWTH Aachen University, in cooperation with Fraunhofer ILT. The concept for the system is based on a project for controlling laser systems developed at Fraunhofer ILT, and it uses Kubernetes, open source software that can automatically install, scale, and maintain application programs on distributed computing systems. 

The corresponding system has been running successfully at ILT for two years. With it, the institute can automatically and remotely install the software for new lasers in just a few minutes.
The Kubernetes software is used, for example, to control ultrashort-pulse laser systems. The scientists are currently researching the automatic evaluation of measurement data. Courtesy of Fraunhofer.
The Kubernetes software is used, for example, to control ultrashort-pulse laser systems. The scientists are currently researching the automatic evaluation of measurement data. Courtesy of Fraunhofer.

“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.

In this context of controlling 50 to 100 lasers, conventional concepts would likely not be suitable for installing new software and the evaluation of data in real time. Ultrashort pulse lasers, for example, are able to ablate almost any material with micrometer precision. Numerous sensors control the machine and guide the laser process. The software that controls the components and reads the data from the sensors is accordingly complex. In industrial production, many such systems are used in parallel. It’s not uncommon to have 50 of them side by side. In that context, efficient installation has been something of a dream, as has their centralized control.

Kubernetes was originally designed by Google and is supported by numerous cloud platforms, including Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, Red Hat OpenShift, Amazon EKS, Google Kubernetes Engine, and Oracle OCI.

“We completely reprogrammed the machine control system,” Kröger said. “This allowed us to rely on proven open source software right from the start, which gives us more compatibility and development options for distributed systems.”

In this way, the institute is able to control and optimize laser processing operations that must take into account, for example, data from the scanner controls, sensor data from different sources, and analysis data during the ongoing process.

As early as 2019, the concept was adopted by Fraunhofer ILT for a data center at RWTH Aachen University. In the Cluster of Excellence Internet of Production (IoP), engineers are working on the digitalization of manufacturing technology. Their goals are to increase and simplify cross-domain collaboration, and to securely bundle all relevant data from many different sources in real time, all in the context of cyber-physical systems and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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

Research is currently being conducted into the automatic evaluation of measurement data. The goal is 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 optimized from the data in the field of artificial intelligence via machine learning.

Photonics Spectra
Sep 2021
Research & TechnologyFraunhoferlasersSoftwareSensors & Detectorslaser processinginstallationdata centercontrolcloudcloud based servicescloud basedcloud data centercloud computingIndustry 4.0Kubernetesindustrialmonitoringopen sourceOpen source softwareopen source software platformFraunhofer ILTRWTH AachenRWTH Aachen Universitycentralcentralizedcentralized controlTech Pulse

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