Laser surface treatment technology in development will target steel surfaces

March 17, 2015
A new partnership has initiated development work on a new laser technology that looks to improve the properties of steel strip surfaces.

DORTMUND, GERMANY – ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe (TKSE), the Fraunhofer Institute for Materials and Beam Technology (IWS), and Lissotschenko Mikrooptik GmbH (LIMO) have initiated development work on a new laser technology that the partners will use to improve the properties of steel strip surfaces. The collaboration is part of a research project by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and is scheduled to be completed by 2017.

In November 2014, LIMO launched its largest joint research project to date, which will see the company contribute $4.1 million (€3.6 million) to the BMBF's OSLO (an acronym for "surface-functionalized steel strip materials using laser surface treatment in a continuous wide-strip process") project.

TKSE, the Dortmund Project Group of the Fraunhofer IWS, and LIMO will research how the properties of ferrous steel strip materials can be influenced in a targeted manner by laser surface treatment in a continuous in-line, wide-strip process. Materials experts refer to it as functionalizing: To provide steel with better corrosion protection, for example, the laser will uniformly heat the steel's surface layers over the entire strip width. But corrosion protection is not the only benefit of this alloying or surface melting process-thanks to uniform heating, it is also extremely energy-efficient and environmentally friendly since the laser only heats the surface rather than the entire volume of the wide strip.

The success of the OSLO project hinges on the laser system and beam shaping unit for the short-time heat treatment of the coated steel strip scheduled to be used in the demonstration machine at TKSE under conditions closely simulating real-life production (process speed: min. 50 m/min, strip width: 300mm).

"To enable these types of short-time surface treatments, a laser system never before available anywhere in the world has to create a length-scalable, uniform, and extremely thin line of light," says Dr. Jens Meinschien, VP of innovations management at LIMO. "To meet this challenge, we're engineering a powerful 35kW semiconductor laser featuring sophisticated beam shaping and high beam quality." Using this new laser system (FIGURE), the OSLO project partners aim to develop a new type of laser surface treatment and possibly bring it to maturity for an eventual series production.

FIGURE. As part of the OSLO project, LIMO is developing a 35kW semiconductor laser featuring sophisticated beam shaping and high beam quality (the image shows a 15kW system). The laser will be able to influence the properties of steel strip surfaces in a targeted and energy-efficient manner. (Image: LIMO/markus-steur.de)

LIMO is the only company worldwide whose core competence combines optics design with laser systems and materials processing know-how. This makes LIMO an important and reliable partner for customers in various industries; e.g., in semiconductor manufacturing, flat panel display production, medical equipment manufacturing, or in the automotive industry, who are looking for unique customer-specific solutions.

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