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Fraunhofer IWS spins off laser processing firm Fusion Bionic

24 May 2021

Aim is to provide “lotus effects” and other laser-created microstructures for wings, biological implants and more.

A research team from industry and the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology (IWS) is spinning off a high-tech company called Fusion Bionic. The company aims to offer “lotus effects” and other functional microstructures from nature to technical surfaces such as air wings and implants using laser interference technology. The team received support from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s AHED project, which specializes in technology transfer.

Modern light interference technologies developed in Dresden make it possible. By means of Direct Laser Interference Patterning (DLIP), the founders of Fusion Bionic can now quickly transfer lotus effects and other laser-materials processes to technical surfaces such as battery components, implants or even airplane wings.

These microscopic surface patterns design implants to be more compatible or, with their anti-icing structures, prevent air passengers from having to wait forever for takeoff to the sunny south in winter due to deeply frozen wings. The technology, which has been researched at Fraunhofer IWS and TU Dresden over the past decade, is now ready for the market.

Dr. Tim Kunze, who previously led the Surface Functionalization group at Fraunhofer IWS, launched Fusion Bionic with a team from science and industry. The company name refers to the fusion of nature-inspired effects into technical product surfaces.

“The Fraunhofer AHEAD program provided us with a great deal of help in this regard. In an entrepreneurial environment with the support of experts from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, we sharpened our business model as well as the product and positioned our team well for the start-up,” said Kunze. The number of employees is expected to grow to around ten by the end of 2022.

“We have been researching in this area jointly at Fraunhofer IWS and TU Dresden for ten years,” said Institute Director Prof. Christoph Leyens, looking back on the development path to the spin-off. “Today, Dresden’s scientists are pioneers in this technology and are inspiring more and more researchers in Europe as well as Asia to take a closer in-depth look at interference technology.”

Multiple possibilities are also predicted by Prof. Andrés Fabián Lasagni, who brought this technology to Dresden and currently heads the Chair of Large-Area Laser Based Surface at Technische Universität Dresden.

Prof. Andrés Fabián Lasagni said that laser interference patterning transfers evolutionary advantages developed by animals over millions of years. “Many insects, for example, have antibacterial surfaces that ensure they don't get sick as quickly,” he said.

High-speed process

The interference structures are the highlight of the Dresden technology. Instead of drawing the desired structural pattern slowly onto the work piece with a single laser beam, as with a pencil, the DLIP process exposes large areas at high process speeds.

Fusion Bionic claims to be the world's first commercial supplier of this process and the associated hardware solutions. In order to benefit from this competitive edge, the founding team now wants to establish a production site in Dresden. Several investors have already expressed keen interest in supporting the scalable technology there.

Kunze's team plans to establish complete laser structuring machines there, as well as standardized DLIP processing modules, which, for example, a medium-sized industrial company can then mount on its robots in the future. As a further promising business field in addition to its own laser machine construction, Fusion Bionic also plans to offer contract structuring and specially developed functional product surfaces.

Several companies from the aerospace, automotive and plant engineering industries have already requested solutions from Fusion Bionic. There is also great interest from scientific institutions similar to the parent institute Fraunhofer IWS, which want to investigate further potential in their own research activities.

“We are providing entirely new product possibilities with our DLIP technology,” said Tim Kunze. “Until now, functional surfaces have usually been created by coatings simply because the laser seemed too slow. But coatings often do not bring the desired effect and are sometimes not very durable or even harmful to the environment.”

How DLIP works

In the DLIP process, an optical system splits laser beams into several parts. Subsequently, the Fraunhofer IWS-developed DLIP processing system focuses these partial beams onto the surface, which is to be made water-repellent like a lotus flower, for example. Here the beams overlap to form interference patterns similar to those seen in optics experiments in physics classes.

The system is based on pulsed beams that successively process surfaces with rapid movement. The laser ablates material at the bright spots, leaving it untouched at the darker ones. Under laboratory conditions, the Fusion Bionic team is already able to process up to 0.9 meters per minute.

As a result, very fine structures are created on the surface, some of which are only a few hundred nanometers (millionths of a millimeter) in size, as in a laser texturing process. These ensure, for example, that dirt or ice cannot find grip. But the laser can also bring other functions to the surface, such as greater acceptance of implants by the body or more reliable electrical plug connections.

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