Skip to main content

Cost Effective Series and Mass-production of High-precision Metallic Microparts and Optical Structures in Moulds by Laser Submicron-machining

Exploitable results

The COMPALA project targeted the manufacturing of high-precision metallic micro-parts using laser (sub)micron-machining for both small series and mass production. Typical features to be machined are small, straight, round holes, narrow slots, and/or shapes with accurate curvatures. Both the laser-machining process and the equipment were developed. The laser processes investigated are: laser-cutting, laser hole-drilling, laser-texturing of moulds, and laser-milling. The laser-milling process could be used for direct milling of micro-parts, or for milling of moulds from which galvanic replicas could be made using the developed MIGA technology. A special feature of the laser processes developed was the capability to be contamination-free. For laser (sub)micron-machining, only short-pulse, high-beam-quality lasers can be applied (in view of their limited Heat-Affected-Zone (HAZ)). To this end, an industrial Copper Vapour Laser (CVL) was developed within the project. It is a high-power-pulse, visible laser with diffraction-limited beam quality and high pulse repetition frequency. The visible wavelength output (511 & 578nm) is strongly absorbed by a wide range of materials. Output powers up to 75W were achieved with power stability of better than 0.5% and beam divergence of <1.5*diffraction limit. These high powers and excellent beam quality enable high-speed machining of very small features. The machining performance of the CVL is benchmarked to the conventionally used Q-switched Nd:YAG lasers. Process control was also investigated. Laser-milling, particularly, benefits from accurate depth control. The main deliverables at the end of the COMPALA project are: 1. Three-axis hole-drilling demonstrator. This system is based on an industrial CVL with beam- and product-handling, and equipment to create the appropriate atmosphere or environment to produce clean parts. 2. Two five-axis laser-milling demonstrators: A. The first system is based on a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser with beam-handling using a galvo scanner, and product-handling. A beam-monitor system and a vision system was incorporated. B. The second system is based on a CVL with beam-handling using a galvo scanner, and product-handling. A beam-monitor control system was incorporated. 3. The prototype of a 30W industrial CVL. 4. MIGA: Laser micro-structuring of metallic master forms combined galvano-forming of Nickel or nickel alloys for mass production of metallic micro-parts. A demonstrator product was made by machining 140 micro-parts into one substrate that could be replicated several thousand times. 5. Strategies for the precise structuring (cutting, milling, and texturing) of metals using lasers. 6. Methods to prevent contamination of the product and the surrounding area during laser processing. 7. Know-how gained from the application of short-pulse lasers like the Copper Vapour and Q-switched Nd:YAG lasers for hole-drilling, milling, and surface-texturing. After the project, less than two years of additional on-site testing and further development at the premises of the end-users will be needed to make the laser micro-machining demonstrator systems sufficiently reliable and user-friendly to function in a production environment. Full-scale introduction of the system in the market will therefore start about two years after the end of the project. However, technological spin-offs will be introduced earlier.