Laser machine triples structuring throughput in automotive tool production.
A collaborative project, including partners from research and industry, has developed a laser machine that triples the rate at which embossing tools can be structured for use in the automotive industry.
The eight-axis machine developed in the BMBF-funded 'eVerest' project --whose partners include entities such as Volkswagen, Fraunhofer ILT, Scanlab, Precitec Optronik, and Amphos --dramatically increases the rate at which three-dimensional patterns can be applied to the embossing tools used to produce textures on the plastic interior of vehicles.
While it takes automotive suppliers a matter of minutes to fabricate this kind of surface using injection moulding, manufacturing the metal tools required to produce them takes significantly longer--up to four weeks are usually required just to structure the tool. The three-dimensional texturing is either etched on the tool in dozens of individual steps, or created by means of a laser process with ablation rates in the region of approximately 1[mm.sup.3]/min.
Since January 2016 the partners of the eVerest research project--set to conclude on 30 June--have been radically improving the throughput of the laser structuring technology used in such applications, while also increasing its resolution to the micrometre regime. The project is.
The partners were able to achieve this by bringing together a number of technologies in the new machine.
An innovative scanner solution from Scanlab was used to reduce the dead times in previously-used scan paths, which led to a tripling of the laser structuring throughput. A powerful, actively-cooled fibre-coupled USP laser from Amphos was also incorporated, to offer higher processing precision, which enabled the surface roughness of produced textures to be reduced to less than 0.5[micro]m. In addition, the partners included two fibre-coupled OCT systems from Precitec Optronik for quality assurance purposes--both during and after processing. The individual components were incorporated into a machine based on the Lasertec 125 from DMG Mori.
The resultant system is easy to operate without requiring any specialist expertise, facilitated by special software tools developed at RWTH Aachen University, which enable the user to simulate the desired structures on the surfaces and visualise their appearance in real time.
The technology is now being tested in collaboration with partners at Volkswagen.