Christian Hinke, Fraunhofer ILT: From bits to photons to atoms
In the Digital Photonic Production research campus, a new form of collaboration is starting between science and industry. The aim is to be able to produce any components from digital data. Christian Hinke is Managing Director of the DPP research campus.
1. Aachen, with the Fraunhofer ILT (Institute for Laser Technology) and IPT (Institute for Production Technology) as well as the RWTH Aachen (University of Technology), is one of the most important research sites for laser technology. Now, a Digital Photonic Production innovation center has also opened at the start of 2015. What exactly is the project about?
Christian Hinke: The focus is on using lasers in the production methods of tomorrow. The vision “From bits to photons to atoms” describes the overall objective: In the future, we want to use the laser as a tool to efficiently produce any type of component directly from digital data. In addition to the much-cited 3D printing, subtractive and modifying processes also play a central role here.
2. There is already a long history of collaboration between industry and research. Does this cooperation gain a new quality with the innovation center? Do your research partners from industry come and visit the universities?
Christian Hinke: That's exactly right. The DPP research campus enables a new form of close cooperation between science and industry “under one roof”. Partners from industry have the opportunity to work with us to define long-term, strategic research goals and to then work on these together in joint work groups in shared research facilities.
3. What research areas does the innovation center cover?
Christian Hinke: The DPP research campus is focused on three key topics:
The first topic is additive processes, primarily selective laser melting (SLM), i.e. the 3D printing of metallic functional components from the powder bed. The second topic is ultrashort pulse processing. Here, the industry is particularly interested in the processing of glasses, e.g. for displays. The third main topic is selective surface treatment using innovative VCSEL beam sources. In the future, this will enable surfaces to be selectively (i.e. in a spatially resolved manner) and very efficiently refined using individually addressable VCSEL arrays.
4. What's the situation with traditional laser techniques such as welding or cutting?
Christian Hinke: Against the background of current challenges facing lightweight design, these traditional laser technologies play a prominent role and continue to be successfully researched at the Fraunhofer ILT. However, at the DPP research campus, it's the aforementioned additive, subtractive, and modifying technologies for 3D components that are principally in the foreground. Laser-beam cutting is surely the prime example of digital photonic production in the 2D area and shows the potential of this concept when it comes to 3D.
5. Everyone is talking about 3D printing or selective laser melting (SLM), also in relation to Industry 4.0. How far is development in this area?
Christian Hinke: Development in this area is still in its infancy. 3D printing is still far removed from industrial mass production. Industry 4.0 is principally about connectivity as well as the availability and use of data on a large scale. The key word here is “Big Data”. Here 3D printing and/or general digital photonic production will be a key technology in the future when it comes to producing customized products based on this aggregated data.
6. What can we expect to see from the Fraunhofer ILT at the forthcoming LASER World of PHOTONICS?
Christian Hinke: Our focus is on lightweight design. In addition to innovations in the area of traditional processes such as laser-beam welding of fiber composite components, we will also be exhibiting lightweight structures produced using selective laser melting. Another focus will be ultrashort pulse lasers and their application in material processing, particularly in the area of lightweight design.