Developed in Aachen, tested on an industrial scale in the Netherlands, on the rise in China: This simple statement describes the success story of extreme high-speed laser material deposition (EHLA) developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT. Aachen-based ACunity GmbH, a spin-off of Fraunhofer ILT, recently supplied three large EHLA-systems for eco-friendly coating to the Chinese high-tech company Hebei Jingye Additive Manufacturing Technology Co., Ltd, which is also the technology transformation center of China Academy of Machinery Science and Technology Group Co., Ltd. (CAM).
Headquartered at the Photonics Cluster at RWTH Aachen Campus, Acunity GmbH and its Chinese subsidary ACunity Tianjin Co. Ltd are providing customers in China with extensive services related to laser processing. “We’re supporting Chinese companies to introduce state-of-the-art laser manufacturing processes”, explains ACunity Managing Director Chen Hong, who spent many years as a researcher at Fraunhofer ILT. “The demand for EHLA is enormous, as over the next two years, China plans to adopt the European model for regulating hard chromium plating”. This is why, in 2017, the spin-off formed a strategic cooperation with the China Academy of Machinery Science and Technology Group Co., Ltd in Beijing and supplied a 5-axis system featuring ILT’s EHLA nozzle technology.
EHLA: ultrathin and ultrafast laser coating
Given the high accuracy of the EHLA-system technology, the reliable process and the wide choice of available powder materials, ACunity is convinced to meet the high requirements of the Chinese industry, especially the country’s manufacturers of hydraulic cylinders. The fact that the laser melts the powder particles directly within the beam pushes up the achievable processing speed for laser material deposition from 0.5 to 2.0 meters per minute to as fast as 500 meters per minute. Another argument for using EHLA is that it needs far less material, since it reduces the minimum coating thickness from over 500 micrometers to just 25-250 micrometers.
ACunity’s plan paid off: following the first successful applications in Beijing by CAM, Hebei Jingye Additive Manufacturing Technology Co., Ltd. ordered two systems for coating the surface of offshore hydraulic cylinders measuring up to five meters in length with a maximum diameter of one meter. The company also ordered another system for internal coatings. At the end of April, Hornet Laser Cladding B.V. – ACunity’s exclusive system technology partner, based in Lexmond in the Netherlands – dispatched the three production systems by sea to China, which are already accepted by the customer.
Based on these successful implementations of EHLA to Chinese customers, Hong is convinced that ACunity will soon receive orders for further five to ten systems from other industry sectors aswell. Forthcoming orders will also change the way the systems are manufactured. Up to now, the focus has been on custom machines; in the future, modular kits for small, medium and even very large systems will be manufactured.
Process reliability and quality are paramount
The success of this brand new process hinges not only on systems technology, but also on process expertise and service. “Chinese companies put a strong emphasis on reliable processing, so we develop custom-tailored processes for their components”, Hong says. “We check the quality of the processing in terms of protection against wear and corrosion by appling EHLA-coatings directly onto customer components . Of course this also involves choosing or developing the right metal powder, adapting the EHLA nozzle and processing parameters.” What is also important to Chinese customers is on-site service support. By the end of 2017, ACunity Tianjin Co.LTd. has been established in Tianjin Binhai, which provides a local, full range technology service and development for this brand new, high-speed process.