At the International Laser Technology Congress (AKL'16), held May 2016 in Aachen, Germany, interest in the topic of process control was greater than expected. Appropriately, the event was also used to launch the Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing. The group provides a forum for representatives from industry and research to initiate pre-competitive projects and discuss issues such as standards, potential cost savings, and feasibility.
In the age of industry 4.0, laser technology is firmly established within manufacturing. A wide variety of laser techniques, from ultrashort-pulse (also known as ultrafast) ablation and additive manufacturing to laser polishing, are now commonplace in large-scale production. Cost structures, new materials, and new processes are framing the demands placed on lasers and process engineering, of which process control is an essential element. Process control has developed steadily over the past few years in terms of performance and reliability, and is being used more and more by manufacturing companies.
New sensors paired with innovative signal analysis now permit more accurate diagnosis of faults in laser-based processes. Today's lasers offer equally high levels of performance and brilliance. This means that laser processes are becoming ever faster, which often leads manufacturers to exhaust process limits as they seek to maximize profitability. Process windows are thus becoming narrower and narrower, which in turn raises the importance of process monitoring. The demands placed on the sensor technology in process control are therefore correspondingly high: suitable measuring points need to be identified in the manufacturing process, the correct sensors need to be integrated, and appropriate automated processes need to be found to ensure rapid detection of quality issues. Overall, this represents a considerable challenge for users and manufacturers.
At the process control seminar during AKL'16, it was apparent that there is great interest among users in new developments in process control. To meet users' needs for support in this area, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology (ILT) and for Production Technology (IPT), both in Aachen, have launched the Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing.
The working group is aimed at users of laser techniques across a wide variety of sectors. Together with the research units, users in the working group can define and carry out pre-competitive projects such as feasibility studies or develop benchmarks, for instance. Members of the working group have access to the latest expert knowledge and trend analyses. Particular emphasis is placed on encouraging an exchange of information, both among users themselves and with experts. Moreover, members have direct access to research and funding projects as well as training opportunities. The activities of the working group are funded by membership fees. To date, around 10 companies have expressed interest and are in discussions with the organizers.
With the inaugural meeting planned for autumn 2016, interested parties are now free to submit topics and questions for discussion.
For more information, please visit www.laserprocesscontrol.org.