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H2020

INFINITE Report Summary

Project ID: 685317

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INFINITE (INnovative laser machine For INdustrial engravIng and 3d TExturing)

Reporting period: 2015-08-01 to 2016-07-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Created 15 years ago, the innovative Italian company ML Engraving SRL is one of the leaders in laser engraving and texturing on moulds/dies and parts for automotive and consumer goods industries in one of the most industrialised regions in Europe, Lombardia.
DS4 is an innovative Italian Company entirely composed by highly skilled technicians that gathers all the modern technology engineering branches such as mechanical engineering, electronics, software, firmware, mathematics, artificial vision and A.I in view of the design and production of laser based systems.
With INFINITE project, ML and DS4 are developing an innovative laser machine for high precision engraving and 3D surface texturing, fully adapted to these industries in terms of design requirements, productivity, repeatability, easy operability and price. This new technology will allow ML Engraving and DS4 to consolidate their strength and positioning on the laser engraving/texturing market, which is estimated of about 100 million euro in 2016 and is expected to grow in the next years.

Most of the objects around us are composed of plastic material, obtained through the molding process. One of the most important components, which helps the end user to perceive the quality of the product, is related to the surface appearance and finishing. Sometimes, the customer is not able to judge the internal quality of the product, while he can appreciate the good finishing, the attractive appearance and the design. A “good” product should be also “nice” and well ended up. This aspect helps to easily and immediately communicate a higher quality and therefore a greater value of the product itself. In the Western market, due to the increase of objects originated from low cost countries, the western producers have started to think about the possibility to introduce enhanced finishes on their products. Going back along the process, a good finishing can be obtained only if the mold is well produced too.

Traditional technologies have several problems and limits in this regards. They are semi-manual technologies, that can execute two-dimensional engravings or, at most, two levels of depth of excavation. A semi-manual process has a minimal degree of automation and it is not 100% repeatable. The chemical etching is the most common technology; it uses the acid as a component of excavation, with consequent safety problems during processing and pollution.

Systems based on laser technology go beyond this paradigm, introducing also the possibility of expanding new opportunities for designers. Through the laser, it is possible to perform 3D textures 100% repeatable; to develop the project with digital supports and to release the renders before performing the process. Laser technology neither pollute the atmosphere or produce waste or toxic fumes and uses renewable energies during the eco-sustainability working processes. Today laser engraving systems, based on a Cartesian architecture, on the other hand requires long setup-up time, are expensive both considering the capital costs (the precision and rigidity of the axes need to be recognized) and process costs. Traditional laser texturing system indeed are not able to operate on large volumes, lacks of flexibility and are long to be re-programmed. On the contrary system based on anthropomorphic robots are more convenient, flexible in 3D environments, easy to be programmed (thanks to the developments in the vision and tracking technologies). The laser texturing based on anthropomorphic robots may contribute to the development of the society by bringing finest products on the market in a green and sustainable way. Moreover, some manufacturings have functional aspects that cannot be managed and obtained with other systems.

The final goal is to give an important contribution to the improvement and development of these laser engraving technologies in order to make them more competitive on the market.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The work done in the first period has been mainly technical. We have carried out the project related to the hardware side. We are developing the construction of the prototype (a anthropomorphic robot equipped with a scanner head) and we are testing the individual components while the texturing and the software processes have been already completed. Either during the development phase and the current validation phase, different tests have been done to well understand the operation with existing machineries. The first results are encouraging and suggest such a great success of the project. The first catalogue of surface textures made with laser engraving has been designed and built. Many dissemination and communication activities have been carried out in business and institutional contexts.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Our market represents a small, but important niche, in the field of mechanical processing. A quantum leap of the laser processing, either in terms of the quality operations performed and both in terms of simplicity of use of the machinery, can have a terrific impact on the industry, potentially leading to a technological substitution. As usual when an improvement in a manufacturing technology is introduced, the impacts on the society are manifold: i) first a direct impact is on the system producers and on the sme involved in the project that can extend their market and business; ii) second the new technology is available for different end users (different in dimension, geographical area, markets) that can directly take advantages on the improvements given by the new technology since cost and quality of the final molds respectively decreases and increases; iii) third the final end user of the products obtained by the new technology might have more quality in his/her life with a personalized, finest and with high aesthetic features goods. This third positive impact has not to be ignored because will involve a large numbers of people in mature countries where not tangible aspects will make differences in the quality of life.

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