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LASER 2013: Polybright workshop reviews laser polymer processing

14 May 2013

Conference hears developments in emerging sector of laser welding of polymers.

By Matthew Peach in Munich

Delegates to the Polybright workshop held this morning at the Laser 2013 expo heard about the latest laser applications in the welding and processing of polymer parts for industries such as automotive, medical devices or white goods.

An international team of laser and polymer processing experts gave an overview of the results achieved so far in the PolyBright project, which commenced at the end of 2009, and their gradual transfer to applications.

The project is aiming to devise new laser sources with wavelengths specifically suited to polymer welding, and the development of welding strategies for non-conventional polymer combinations, related machines and equipment.

Conference chair Alexander Olowinsky, who also works at the Fraunhofer ILT in Aachen, said, "The objective of the European collaborative PolyBright project is to provide high speed and flexible laser manufacturing technology and expand the limits of current plastic part assembly.

New laser polymer joining processes for optimized thermal management in combination with wavelength adapted polymers and additives will provide higher quality, high processing speeds up to 1m/s and develop robust manufacturing processes at lower costs."

“We are aiming to extend the process limits of welding and processing of polymers using high brilliance sources. Nowadays polymer components and combinations are used in every facet of modern living, whether industrial, commercial or domestic.

"But laser welding and processing of polymer parts is constantly undergoing innovation because there are new polymers and new types of lasers emerging all the time."

The Polybright consortium comprises 18 partners from nine countries across Europe, including laser companies, optics suppliers, material and processing specialists and machine suppliers.

Key innovations of the PolyBright project are developing high brilliance mid-IR-wavelength fiber and diode lasers with powers up to 500 W, high-speed scanning and flexible beam manipulation systems, such as dynamic masks and multi-kilohertz scan heads.

Tim Westphäling of IPG Laser, Burbach, Germany, spoke about his company's recent innovations in high-brilliance fiber laser sources offering new NIR wavelengths and their particular application to polymer welding and processing. This includied new ranges of erbium and thulium-doped lasers designed to emit in the longer infrared region between 1.5 to 2.0 microns.

Daniel Vogler, of Leister Technologies, Kägiswil, Switzerland, gave a presentation entitled Beam Shaping for Enhanced Laser Polymer Welding.

Frauke Legewie of LIMO Lissotschenko Mikrooptik, Dortmund, told the gathering about her group’s developments in the welding of polymers with adapted wavelengths and innovative intensity distributions by beam shaping including with novel laser sources and materials of different reflectance and absorption.

Veli Kujanpää from VTT Technical Research Centre, Lappeenranta, described a new software package developed by the team of Saara Ruotsalainen, at VTT, known as Intelligent Power Control. "This is based on National Instruments’ LabView software, and ultimately it is intended to be commercialized for optimizing quasi-simultaneous laser welding of polymers," he explained.

Fernando Liébana from the Tecnalia Research & Innovation Foundation, Derio, Spain, described a novel autocalibration system with internal and external camera for scanner-based laser welding of polymers. Finally, Mikko Laaksonen Cencorp Oyj, from Mikkeli, Finland, spoke about new types and capabilities of laser welding machines developed by his company.

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optcis.org

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