Lightweight materials, which have both high strength and stiffness, are the materials for automobile construction of the future. This is due to safety reasons, which cannot be sacrificed in order to reduce weight.
Carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) have the characteristics that are needed. However, CFRP is a challenge in production technology, and currently, CFRP components are mainly used in the sports car sector and in small batch automotive production.
If cars based on CFRP are to be mass produced, then automated production technologies for cutting this lightweight material must be developed. Conventional technologies such as milling or waterjet cutting have process-based disadvantages, such as high tool wear or handling of water and abrasives, which cannot be solved technologically.
In the current joint project HolQueSt 3D, seven partners from industry and science, under the leadership of Volkswagen AG, are working together on developing a process for 3-D high-performance laser processing of CFRP lightweight structures. In comparison to conventional technologies, lasers can be used for non-contact, high-precision processing without tool wear, and simultaneously the process has high reproducibility and flexibility. Up to now, due to high temperatures, laser processing of CFRP causes damage in the processing zone. The main hurdles for using laser processing for CFRP are at present an incomplete understanding of the process, and the lack of sufficiently developed processes.
Based on a new, fiber-guided, high performance laser with pulse lengths in the nanosecond range (Trumpf Laser GmbH + Co. KG), the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) is developing both a process especially geared towards CFRP applications and an optimized process monitoring system. A further obstacle to the use of lasers in lightweight construction is the process-based generation of particles and gasses, which are partially hazardous to health. Together with Jenoptik Katasorb GmbH, the LZH is working on a remedy, by finding a suitable method for treatment and filtering, based on previous characterization of the process emissions.
These concepts should be used to provide large-scale CFRP processing adapted to the demands of the automobile industry. Thus, resource efficient, lightweight construction concepts could soon find their way into today’s automotive generation.