EHLA Scores at Steel Innovation Awards

Once every three years, the German steel industry presents its Steel Innovation Awards. The purpose of this initiative is to recognize innovations that are helping to ensure this material remains a viable choice for the long term. The jury considers not just products made from steel, but also innovative processes such as extreme high-speed laser material deposition (EHLA). For the development of this process, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen won the Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize in 2017. On June 13, 2018, the researchers were honored with the 2nd prize of the Steel Innovation Award in the “Steel in Research and Development” category for their eco-friendly laser-based alternative to chromium(VI) plating.

Thomas Schopphoven, Fraunhofer ILT (left) and Gerhard Backes, RWTH Aachen University, took 2nd place at the Steel Innovation Awards in Berlin in the “Steel in Research and Development” category for their EHLA process. (Source: Fh. ILT)

This award-winning technology represents a huge leap forward in efforts to protect highly stressed metal components against wear and corrosion – a job that used to primarily fall to hard chrome plating. The extremely fast Aachen variant of the well-known laser material deposition process has recently led to a rethink in the surface engineering industry concerning the use of coatings based on controversial chromium(VI) compounds. EHLA melts metal powder particles directly in the laser beam and boosts the process speed from the current maximum of several meters a minute to speeds as high as 500 meters a minute. And as well as being extremely fast, EHLA also scores highly for its very economical use of materials. The process reduces the producible layer thickness from over 500 µm to between 25 and 250 µm.

The EHLA concept has already made some major inroads. Since 2015, the company IHC Vremac Cylinders, headquartered in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, has used EHLA to coat hundreds of hydraulic cylinders for offshore applications all over the world. Measuring up to ten meters in length and with diameters of up to 500 mm, the cylinders are coated with alloys that protect them from wear and corrosion even under the toughest conditions. Trumpf Laser- und Systemtechnik now offers laser systems in its TruLaser Cell range that can apply the EHLA process to components of varying sizes.

Many of the customers ordering this new system are based in China. In 2017, Aachen-based Acunity – a spin-off of Fraunhofer ILT – supplied various machines to the Advanced Manufacture Technology Center in Beijing, including a 5-axis system with specially tailored EHLA nozzle technology. The government research institute is heavily involved in research into new, environmentally friendly processes that make economical use of resources. Based on the preliminary test results, a Chinese company recently decided to purchase three large-scale systems to apply eco-friendly coatings to offshore hydraulic cylinders. And plenty more orders are likely to follow, says ACunity managing director Chen Hong optimistically: “Demand for the process is huge, because China is also set to emulate the European model by regulating hard chrome plating over the course of the next two years.” (Source: Fh. ILT)

Link: Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, Aachen, Germany

Further reading: T. Schopphoven, A. Gasser, G. Backes (Fraunhofer ILT): EHLA: Extreme High‐Speed Laser Material Deposition, Laser Tech. J. 14 (4), online 13 June 2017; DOI: 10.1002/latj.201700020 • EHLA Is Ready for Series Production, photonicsviews.com, 26th July 2017 • EHLA: Corrosion and Wear Protection with Lasers, photonicsviews.com, 31st May 2017

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