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Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-03-31

Lasers have been in use for industry for almost four decades. They offer significant commercial potential for improving surface properties, as they can optimize product performances without altering the chemical composition of the surface or adding any coatings. The ultrashort pulse laser ushered in a new generation of lasers: with durations in the femtosecond range up to a few picoseconds (1 trillion picoseconds = 1 second) they allow any material to be processed at a level of precision that was previously unknown.

Laser-induced periodic surface structures (LIPSS) have increasingly gained interest over the past decade. They can be generated in a simple single-step process, allowing a surface to be tailored for optical, mechanical, and chemical surface properties in nano dimensions. The research project Laser4Surf will focus on the development of different technologies to solve the main limitations of laser texturing of metals and reach mass production. LASER4SURF main objective is to remove the technical and economic barriers that prevent the use of laser technologies for obtaining functionalised metallic surfaces with textures ~1µm or less on mass production. This objective is mainly achieved by the development of an integrated Laser Texturing Prototype that comprises laser texturing device, in-line monitoring system and simulation tools.

Three use cases will demonstrate an increased product performance: advanced batteries, linear encoders and medical components.
During the first 18 months of the project, efforts have been put into the development of the three modules that will be integrated in the final prototype: an optical module for LIPSS optimization, in-line monitoring system and simulation tools:
- An optical module for simultaneoous control of laser polarization and beam shape has been designed and is being fabricated
- A first version of a monitoring Unit has been set-up
- An initial version of the Simulation Tool is being developed based on a wide Database of LIPSS processes.
- Product performance increase has been preliminarly reported for the three application fields.
Progress beyond the state of the art will be achieved in several aspects covered by the project:
- Regarding monitorization, the challenge to progress beyond the state of the art will be to effectively implement diffractometry for inline process monitoring. This will require the design of compact, high numerical aperture optics to capture the maximum number of orders possible.
- Although in the last years several research groups have demonstrated the formation of LIPSS on different materials, no tools exist for the inverse problem solution, that is to say, for a specific LIPSS structure which parameters are required.

However, the impact of LASER4SURF will not be limited to the scientific field; enviromental and societal impacts are also expected. For example, the use of laser based solutions for the functionalisation of surfaces possess different environmental advantages with respect to other surface treatment methods (chemical treatments, micro-machining…), avoiding the use of raw material and the production of waste and emissions. Additionally, the project will have a significant societal impact as allows the improvement in the implants (dental screws, hip and knee replacement…) performance, rising the life time of the implants and easing the recuperation time for the patients.