Published: 9 October 2013, 14:03
The Office of the Federal President announced at a press conference the teams nominated for the final round of the Federal German President’s Award for Innovation in Science and Technology.
The three outstanding German research and development projects represent a mega trend in industrial implementation: light. New forms of light are revolutionizing lighting; light is increasingly replacing mechanical and chemical processing in manufacturing and is a tool used to product state-of-the-art high-tech products. But how can the highest precision with maximum productivity be achieved with ultrashort laser pulses?
Dr. Jens König, Dr. Dirk Sutter and ACP scientist Prof. Dr. Stefan Nolte have mastered this challenge: they developed ultrashort laser pulses for industrial applications. These lasers emit light in the form of high-energy laser pulses no more than a billionth of a second in duration. They have thus paved the way for the very precise manufacture of minute structures - and for the industrial production of innovative products. Jens König is group leader for laser material processing and joining technology in the Research and Preliminary Development division of Robert Bosch GmbH in Schwieberdingen. Dirk Sutter heads Research and Development of ultrashort laser pulses at TRUMPF Laser GmbH + Co. KG in Schramberg. Stefan Nolte is a professor at the Institute of Applied Physics at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena as well as at the Fraunhofer Institute of Applied Optics and Precision Mechanics in Jena.
Common challenges in laser processing like melting, ablation and strain can be avoided by using ultrashort laser pulses. Since their light pulses are only a few piko or femto seconds long (a billionth or trillionth of seconds), but of extremely high energy, the impact of the laser beam on the material is highly concentrated. The result: the material subjected to this kind of laser pulse evaporates without melting. Material is removed precisely and only where desired - micrometer for micrometer. This "cold" machining prevents unwanted effects and means extremely precise machining in very small spaces is possible. Complicated and expensive reworking of products is unnecessary.
ACP scientist Nolte has laid the scientific basis for use of the ultrashort laser pulses in material processing. Dirk Sutter and his team developed the world’s first and to date most powerful ultrashort laser pulse for industrial applications. Jens König and his colleagues at Bosch have researched the specific requirements and together with TRUMPF have defined the laser’s specifications to cover every aspect of material processing. Bosch also designed the system technology for reliable industrial manufacturing of numerous products - for example fuel injectors for engines with extremely fine nozzle injection holes. Ultrashort laser pulses from Trumpf are also used in vast numbers in the production of today’s smart phones, and in the manufacture of stents - medical implants used to keep arteries the body open - made of easy to tolerate and bio-absorbable polymers. Many other applications are already in use or are soon to be used in industrial applications.
The right to nominate outstanding achievements for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis is incumbent upon leading German institutions in science and industry as well as foundations. The project "Ultrafast lasers for industrial mass production - manufacturing with light flashes" was nominated by BDI - Federation of German Industry. Prof. Dr. Ferdi Schüth, chairman of the jury of Deutscher Zukunftspreis, explained the competitive nomination process: The CEOs or chairmen of German scientific and business institutions entitled to propose projects can submit up to three projects to the German President's Office. These institutions also review the scientific relevance and formal agreement of the projects with the statutes of the prize. In several meetings, the jury then categorizes the submissions and decides on the three or four innovations that will make it to the final round.
The Deutscher Zukunftspreis, the Federal President’s Award for Technology and Innovation, is endowed with 250,000 euros in prize money. It will be awarded on December 4 this year by Federal President Joachim Gauck who will announce the jury’s decision at the gala event. ZDF will broadcast the award ceremony at 10:15 p.m. on December 4, 2013; the exciting event can be seen via live stream starting at 6:00 p.m.