BMBF's Digital Photonic Production research campus opens

With the United Nations having declared 2015 the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies, the opening of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)'s new Digital Photonic Production (DPP) research campus at the end of January 2015 was perfectly timed. Located on the RWTH Aachen campus, the DPP research campus is destined to become well known as the home to a new kind of collaboration between science and industry. The aim of the DPP research campus is to research and further develop light as a tool in the production of tomorrow.

"Aachen is Germany’s only university location to feature two research campuses funded by our ministry," explained Thomas Rachel, parliamentary state secretary at BMBF, at the DPP opening event held at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) on January 23, 2015.

BMBF-funded work at Aachen falls into two categories: While the Flexible Electrical Networks Consortium (FEN) is developing new ways of transporting energy using direct current, the DPP research campus will focus on the basic physical effects of light as well as on new methods of using it as a tool in the industrial production of tomorrow. Of course, this refers to lasers, which have already become a truly universal manufacturing tool—whether for dental implants, automotive parts, or aircraft components.

Among the 20 industry partners are small and medium-sized enterprises as well as large companies such as Siemens AG. Dr. Nicolas Vortmeyer is CTO at Siemens' Power and Gas division, which manufactures turbines for power plants. He is convinced of the merits of 3D printing—a process that uses lasers to build parts up layer by layer.

"3D printing removes the limitations we've had to struggle with in manufacturing and development," Vortmeyer explains. "This technology allows us to manufacture spare parts even for older power plant turbines we no longer have the plans for—and to do so relatively quickly." He predicts that this collaboration will "speed up the creative process exponentially."

Dr. Nicolas Vortmeyer (CTO of Siemens' Power and Gas division), Christian Hinke (managing director of the Digital Photonic Production research campus), Rudolf Henke (member of the German Bundestag) and Thomas Rachel (parliamentary state secretary at BMBF) marvel at an aluminum key made using a 3D printer at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT). (Image copyright: Fecht)

It became clear just how fast these key Aachen technologies work when the opening event's host, Prof. Dr. Reinhart Poprawe, spokesman for the DPP research campus and director of Fraunhofer ILT, presented Rachel with an aluminum key that institute employees had made using a 3D printer.

Prof. Dr. Reinhart Poprawe (right) presenting Thomas Rachel, parliamentary state secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, with a 3D-printed key that will really open doors: "The Digital Photonic Production research campus is set to play a key role in connecting industry, science, and society." (Image copyright: Fraunhofer ILT)

Alongside additive manufacturing methods (direct photonic production), work at the DPP research campus will also harness manufacturing techniques that use ultrafast lasers (femtophotonic production) as well as new kinds of VCSEL beam sources—for example, to selectively functionalize nanoscale layers (nanophotonic production). The BMBF is funding nine such research campuses across Germany and intends to fund the DPP research campus to the tune of $2.1 million (€2 million) per year for up to 15 years.



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