Assisting European manufacturing from prototypes to entering new markets

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Aachen, Germany - Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often confronted with the challenge of how to make new efficient laser-based manufacturing processes accessible to users in industry. Yet making these developments usable in industry, and opening up new markets, calls for a precise definition of the technical requirements, as well as in-depth knowledge of the market, combined with networking between users, suppliers, and research institutes.

The LASHARE project, co-funded by the EU, has been launched to give more than 30 SMEs a helping hand, bringing together six of the most renowned European research institutes under the leadership of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT). The aim of the project is to enhance the competitiveness of the European laser industry by accelerating technology transfer.

Often, new laser-based manufacturing techniques employ specific, standalone solutions that have previously only been demonstrated in a laboratory setting. In many cases these innovations are developed by SMEs, which possess the flexibility required to find a speedy solution to the problem at hand.

Possible pitfalls
However there are many possible pitfalls in getting from a lab-demonstrated solution to industrially robust manufacturing equipment. It may be, for instance, that parts of the solution were developed at a time when the final specifications were still unknown or that the components are not sufficiently robust for everyday use. As an SME’s business success relies heavily on a quick market launch, and securing user acceptance for its new technologies and products, LASHARE will help minimize the risks involved in this process and strengthen Europe as a leading manufacturing location by helping innovative manufacturing technologies get to market more quickly.

Aachen event
On September 25-27, 2013, Fraunhofer ILT hosted the launch event of the EU co-funded LASHARE project, which will run for four years with a budget of almost 15 million euros. Held in Aachen, the event brought together 38 partners from industry and research to determine relevant targets, metrics and procedures for the "LASHARE Assessment Framework." This framework provides the basis to accelerate the development of demonstrated laser-based equipment and help prepare it for manufacturing. The technologies under assessment are compared with the levels of maturity seen in other established technologies in their sector, helping to accelerate the process toward a demand driven, industrially robust solution.

Laser-based equipment assessments

LASHARE helps small and medium-sized partners, in the role of suppliers, to develop the laser-based equipment with a view to improving new manufacturing processes and making sure they respond to current user needs regarding technical implementation. To accomplish this, LASHARE has launched 14 "Laser-based Equipment Assessments" (LEAs) for a diverse array of laser applications ranging from large-scale technologies such as the welding of ship components to nanotechnologies such as the structuring of surfaces using ultra-short pulse lasers.

First, users define the industrial requirements for the laser-based equipment, which they will later evaluate in an industrial-scale manufacturing setting at the end of the LEA. Research partners, working with the users and suppliers, will establish the "LASHARE Assessment Framework," which will define the best technical solution for the requirements provided. Finally, suppliers will use the results from the LASHARE Assessment Framework and implement laser-based solutions that meet end-user requirements. In this way, LEAs speed up the transfer of laboratory solutions to real manufacturing applications that can establish themselves on the market quickly and reliably – the key to market success.

Fourteen LEAs are running from the beginning of the project and will be joined by 8 to 12 others during the project through a competitive call. All in all, more than 30 SME partners will benefit from the support of the FP7-FoF (Factories of the Future) program.
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(Image via Shutterstock)



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