New Pulsed Laser Poised to Cut Auto Production Time

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TAMPERE, Finland, June 20, 2019 — European scientists are developing a new pulsed laser that has the ability to cut and shape ultrahigh-strength boron steel much faster and with less waste than existing technology.

The project, called PULSE, has received a €5 million ($5.7 million) development grant from the European Commission based in Brussels. 

Operating at 1.5 km per second, the new laser will reportedly be powerful enough to cut the hardest boron steel used in car construction at 1 cm per minute.

“The processing speed is determined by the polygon scanner and/or repetition rate of the pulse,” project coordinator Regina Gumenyuk told Photonics Media.

Exerting an average power of 2.5 kW, or 100 kW in a single pulse, and with repetition rates up to 1 GHz (or 1 billion cycles per second – 1000x more than the current 1-MHz upper limit), the laser will have the control and refinement to etch molds for vehicle parts at micron-scale accuracy and also microweld dissimilar metals for solar thermal absorbers.

The new system, similar to that developed by Gerard Mourou, the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in physics, is used to cut and shape ultrahigh-strength industrial materials that are notoriously difficult to process at high speed, while producing significantly less waste.

“The Nobel prize winners of 2018 provided the scientific and industrial communities [with] … a very practical technique which enabled the realization of ultimate output power from the single laser,” Gumenyuk said. “All modern high-power lasers are built on the basis of this technology.” 

Commonly used in laser eye surgery, pulsed lasers send out short blasts of energy, or pulses, in tiny fractions of a second. The pulses in this new laser are so fast that their duration is measured in femtoseconds.

Boron steel, which is used in car bodies because of its super strength, is so durable that it is often difficult to cut or shape. The processes used to ensure its durability usually remove many of the steel's fundamental properties, such as the workability.

Although boron steel can be cut with a plasma arc torch (a tool that cuts using a high-pressure, accelerated jet of hot plasma), this can instantly heat the metal to over 650 ºC (1200 ºF) and is not as precise or as quick as a pulse laser.

“High-power continuous wave lasers are currently used for cutting boron steel for parts where the high heat generated can be tolerated,” Gumenyuk said. “However, due to speed, lack of high power, and cost issues, pulsed lasers have not been widely used, and conventional grinders are used where poor edge finish and higher waste is experienced. The new high-power, ultrafast pulsed lasers developed by PULSE will overcome these challenges at a highly attractive commercial cost.”

The laser system will enable an improved digital design to lighten vehicle chassis weight, which will benefit fuel economy and increase the range of electric vehicles. A prototype is expected to be ready by 2021.

The consortium behind the new laser draws on expertise from eleven research institutions and industry partners from six different European countries and is coordinated by Tampere University in Finland.

The PULSE consortium is made up of partners from: United Kingdom (Aston University and Modus Research and Innovation Limited); Finland (AMPLICONYX OY); Germany (LUNOVU Gmbh and Hochschule Mittweida); Greece (Nanotypos OE, Foundation for Research and Technology HELLAS, and Prime Laser Technology Iliaka Systimata Thermansi Anonimi Viomichaniki Emporiki Etaireia); Italy (Centro Richerche Fiat SCPA and Onostampi SRL); Latvia (Ceram Optec Sia)

Published: June 2019
Research & TechnologyEuropeLaserspulsed laserscontinuous wave lasers

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