A team of German manufacturers has partnered to develop new, safer, more accurate methods of laser machining carbon-fiber parts.
Carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP) are notoriously difficult to machine because of their high strength and stiffness, though the material is lightweight and durable and suitable for a broad range of applications. Traditional machining techniques wear tools rapidly, but laser cutting could sidestep the need to damage tooling. However, the process today is costly and limited to luxury items.
The German team, known as HolQueSt 3D, is lead by Volkswagen AG and includes companies Laser Zentrum Hanover, Jenoptik Katasorb, and Trumpf. It hopes to improve the ability of lasers to machine CFRP. The German Ministry of Education and Research has donated 4 million euro to the project, and the companies have raised or contributed an additional 3 million euro.
HolQueSt 3D will work to develop a new laser and new laser processing types to machine CFRP safely and accurately.
“CFRP contains both stiff fibers and sticky polymers,” said Oliver Suttmann of Laser Zentrum Hanover. “The fibers lead to wear on mechanical tools, such as mills and cutters, while the sticky polymer increases the deterioration of the tool by blocking the rake and clearance angle. Water jet machining is also problematic, as it requires the use of abrasive materials which might remain in the cutting edge and initiate contact corrosion.”
The group hopes to create an affordable solution.
“We are aiming for an economical process, and the most important factors for that are the through-put and the investment into a beam source,” said Suttmann. “Throughput requires high average power. Nanosecond lasers have a big advantage on that score, and on the investment required per Watt of average output.”