Research

Pulsed lasers cut through the strongest steel – PULSE project ushers in new era for laser manufacturing in Europe

Lasers have become an indispensable part of our daily life. They are used in everyday items ranging from laser pointers and laser engraved iPhones to mass-produced laser etched articles. Tampere University is coordinating an international project that develops ultrafast high-power lasers that will meet the needs of heavy industry and deliver an unprecedented level of speed and accuracy.

Europe leads the world in laser and photonics technologies. To maintain this position, the EU’s Horizon2020 Programme and the Photonics Public Private Partnership, Photonics 21, have launched a new research collaboration to take the next steps in developing high-power ultrafast lasers for manufacturing purposes.

“Ultrafast pulsed lasers open up unique new opportunities for laser manufacturing. Unlike conventional lasers that deliver a constant beam of high-power light and generate enormous amounts of heat in the process, pulsed lasers generate very short and powerful bursts of light. The process is much easier to control and produces much less heat,” says Dr Regina Gumenyuk of Tampere University. 

“The duration of these pulses is measured in femtoseconds. A femtosecond is to a second as a second is to about 32 million years,” she adds.

The four-year project titled High-Power Ultrafast Lasers using Tapered Double-Clad Fibre (PULSE) brings together outstanding industrial and academic research partners across Europe. The aim is to develop a complete laser system with an average power of 2.5kW and 100kW in a single pulse, sufficient to cut the hardest Boron steel used in car construction, combined with an unprecedented level of control, refinement and speed.

“Manufacturing industries are keen to adopt laser-based production using systems that support high-precision and enable fast and flexible mass customisation and are also cost-competitive and resource-efficient. The anticipated improvements in manufacturing quality and process efficiency for laser engraving and laser cutting will have wide-ranging applications from electronics and medical devices to textiles and from automotive to consumers goods,” says Gumenyuk.

In addition, the members of the consortium are developing new solutions for managing these fast and high-power beams. They have already demonstrated, in principle, a solution for precisely targeting the laser at a speed of more than 5,000 km per hour over a material surface. Within the next three years, the partners will demonstrate unmatched speed in materials processing with minimal heat impact using a highly automated system harnessing special programmes and fast computers to enable highly competitive digitally integrated design and production workflows. The results will be game-changing for a range of industrial manufacturing processes.

Researchers at Tampere University have developed and patented some of the fundamental high-power laser concepts and will be closely involved in the design and development of the highly stable ultra-short pulsed fibre laser. They aim to maximise the economic and societal benefits of the concepts by transferring their technology to industry.

“It would not be possible to achieve high-power output performance by focusing on only one component of the system. We need a comprehensive approach to the development of the entire kW-level laser system, which is why our consortium represents diverse expertise in photonics, materials science and engineering.”

The PULSE project is an initiative of the Photonics Public Private Partnership. PULSE has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme. The four-year project has a budget of more than €5 million over a period of 4 years and involves 12 partners across Europe. 

Inquiries: Coordinator of the PULSE project Regina Gumenyuk, tel. +358 40 1981064, regina.gumenyuk@tuni.fi