Advancing Laser Technology for Producing Plastic Molds

The dashboard is nice and shiny; the steering wheel feels like soft leather – and yet is made of plastic. The furniture grain looks deceptively real, even though the desk is not made of wood. And the keyboard on the desk is simply more visually appealing and easier to use when the surface is structured. “The structure of an object’s surface is indicative of how we perceive its level of quality,” remarked Professor Ulrich Wittrock from the Department of Engineering Physics at Münster University of Applied Sciences. “Surface structures play a key role in enhancing optical and haptic properties. They are gaining importance as a sign of quality.”

The steering wheel alone has four differently structured surfaces, creating a high-quality impression of the car and its fittings. (Source: Münster UAS)

This knowledge can be capitalized upon for many applications – after all, everything has a surface. In the case of the joint research project “eVerest”, involving Münster University of Applied Sciences, it is used to the automobile industry’s advantage. In this field, finely structured surfaces are created to give vehicles and their interior fittings an elegant, high-quality appearance, a great feel and, ideally, a longer life.

“Surface structures are created by what we call injection molds,” explained Sven Verpoort, supervisor of the project in the Photonics Laboratory. “The material is pressed into the structured mold and, when removed, the pattern is visible on the surface.” However, producing molds is a very complex and expensive process, particularly when creating new structures. “This is where our partners come in: they are developing an innovative machining technique that uses a laser to process injection molds quickly and precisely.” Not only will this technology halve production times – compared to the current state of the art – the machining technique will also involve a completely digitalized process and can be used without any knowledge of laser ablation processes and techniques.

The Photonics Laboratory team’s task is to develop a mirror that enables laser precision on a micrometer scale. “We have already completed the first prototype,” stated Wittrock. The team has now presented its prototype at the latest meeting of the eight project partners – intense exchanges are extremely important for successful collaboration. Over the course of two days, the experts shared their ideas, created working groups and developed solutions together. Plans were also made for a high-profile final presentation to convince as many users as possible of the importance of this new technology.

Eight partners altogether are involved in the joint research project “eVerest”: Volkswagen, Scanlab, Amphos, Precitec, Sauer and three scientific institutions – Münster University of Applied Sciences, RWTH Aachen and Fraunhofer ILT. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and runs until 2019. (Source: Münster UAS)

Link: Joint research project “eVerest”, Photonics Laboratory, Münster University of Applied Sciences

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