Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Lasers put a shine on metals

Jobs are in short supply, and yet some sectors have difficulty in finding suitable trainees for specialist tasks, such as polishing injection molds.

The work is time-consuming and monotonous but requires highest levels of concentration, because any blemish in the mold can render it useless. A skilled worker may often need a whole week to polish a single metal mold. Up to now it has not been possible to use machines for this dreary work because they cannot get into the curved shapes.

Metal mold for glass manufacture: the lower part of the mold has been left unprocessed, the upper part has been laser-polished. On the right, the product that can be made using a mold of this type. (© Fraunhofer ILT)

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen have developed a way of automating the polishing work: "We do not polish the surface by hand with grinding and polishing media. Instead we use a laser," explains Dr.-Ing. Edgar Willenborg, group leader at the ILT. "The laser beam melts the surface to a depth of about 50 to 100 micrometers. Surface tension ensures that the liquid metal flows evenly and solidifies smoothly."

Like in conventional grinding and polishing, the process is repeated with increasing degrees of fineness. In the first stage the researchers melt the surface to a depth of about 100 micrometers, in further steps they gradually reduce the depth. "We can set the melting depth by means of various parameters: the laser output, the speed at which the laser beam travels along the surface and the length of the laser pulses," states Willenborg. Laser polishing does not achieve the same surface smoothness as perfect hand polishing – hand polishers can achieve a roughness Ra of 5 nanometers, the laser at present can only manage 50 nanometers – but Willenborg still sees considerable market potential for the system.

"We will concentrate on automating the medium grades: a roughness of 50 nanometers is adequate for many applications, including the molds used for making standard plastic parts." The high-end levels of smoothness will therefore remain the domain of skilled hand polishers.

The time gained by laser polishing and the cost saving achieved are enormous. Whereas a skilled polisher needs about 10 to 30 minutes for each square centimeter, the laser polishes the same area in about a minute. A prototype of the laser polishing machine developed by the scientists in cooperation with mechanical engineering firm Maschinenfabrik Arnold has already been built. Willenborg estimates that the system will be ready for industrial use in one to two years' time. At the Euromold trade show, to be held from December 2 to 5 in Frankfurt, the researchers will be presenting examples of three-dimensional surfaces polished by laser (Hall 8, Stand M114).

Edgar Willenborg | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
Further information:

More articles from Process Engineering:

nachricht Etching Microstructures with Lasers
25.10.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT

nachricht Applying electron beams to 3-D objects
23.09.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Organische Elektronik, Elektronenstrahl- und Plasmatechnik FEP

All articles from Process Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>