AKL'12 summary: Short-pulse lasers penetrate industrial applications


Aachen, Germany -- Experts from the field of industrial laser technology gathered in Aachen earlier this month (May 9-11, 2012) for the International Laser Technology Congress (AKL)'12, exploring technical innovations including the processing of new materials, ultrashort pulse lasers, and laser additive manufacturing, reports the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT).

AKL'12 set a new record this year, attracting over 600 visitors, and international participation also increased. The program included some 76 presentations, including the beginner's seminar on laser technology, the Technology Business Day for executives and marketing managers, and two first-day EU seminars devoted to "Laser additive manufacturing (LAM) in aeronautics and power generation" (EU joint project MERLIN) and "Perspectives of polymer welding with lasers" (EU joint project POLYBRIGHT), plus a seminar focused on the usage of ultrashort laser pulses in industry.

In the AKL'12 opening presentation, Dr. Dieter Steegmüller (Daimler AG) examined two trends: greater flexibility in manufacturing, and new materials in vehicle manufacturing, with emphasis on materials including high-strength steels, new Al alloys, magnesium, and fiber-reinforced plastics. Prof. Reinhart Poprawe of Fraunhofer ILT focused on the issue of flexibility in his presentation under the heading "Digital Photonic Production." He outlined a new world of manufacturing in which virtually any complex, high-precision components can be manufactured rapidly and directly from computer-generated specifications, as part of customized or series production.

Subsequent AKL'12 presentations demonstrated that such applications are already a reality in many places -- for example, the extended application of LAM processes in the aero engine segment. In such applications it is clear that additive processes in particular offer a high level of flexibility and maximum customization during manufacturing, at no additional cost. Poprawe summed up the advantages of digital photonic production in a striking phrase: "Complexity and individualization for free."

Professor Reinhart Poprawe's presentation outlined how laser technologies
can help us tackle global challenges. (Source: Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen)

In the field of beam sources, ultrashort pulse lasers (USP) again took center stage, alongside current developments in diode and fiber lasers. Entirely new applications are being opened up thanks to the availability of systems with average output of over 100 Watts. A new generation of USP lasers with high operating reliability, long service life, and acceptable costs has finally made inroads into industrial manufacturing.

The high-power, short pulse laser, defining the high-end segment at output power in excess of 1 kW, attracted a great deal of attention. In recognition of its outstanding multi-disciplinary collaboration across all locations, the Fraunhofer ILT and several cooperation partners from science and industry received the Stifterverband's Science Award 2012 for their work on scaling the output of ultrashort laser pulses. This prize was presented on May 8, 2012 as part of the Fraunhofer annual general assembly in Stuttgart.

The Innovation Award Laser Technology 2012 was presented in the Coronation Hall of Aachen City Hall. The award -- and &euro10,000 prize money -- went to a team under the direction of Dr. Stephan Brüning, (Schepers GmbH & Co KG, Vreden, Germany) who came up with a solution for three-dimensional micro-structuring of large surfaces for print and embossing applications using high-power ultrashort pulse lasers. Schepers, in cooperation with companies and institutes, developed a new scanner technology and ablation processes to support scan speeds of up to 50 m/s. A combination of fast-rotating cylinder and high-speed scanner based on an acousto-optic deflector allow the use of picosecond laser pulses working at over 10 MHz to deliver high-quality results in micromachining.

After the presentations attendees toured the Fraunhofer ILT to view live presentations on the very latest process and system developments -- for example, the manufacture and repair of blade-integrated disks (BLISKs). No fewer than 79 different technical installations and exhibits presented current research findings and developments in industrial laser technology in the Laser Technology Center.

The next and tenth AKL will be held in Aachen from May 7-9, 2014.

An ice sculpture welcomed visitors to the live presentations at the entrance
to the Fraunhofer ILT. A closer inspection revealed a metallic cheekbone
manufactured using selective laser melting. (Source: Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen)