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TRUMPF, a specialist for machine tools from Ditzingen, Germany, has developed new solutions that will enable the automotive industry to avoid many environmentally harmful cleaning processes in the future. Currently, the automotive industry typically still cleans components chemically, which usually requires several baths in different chemicals. But that's shooting at sparrows with a cannon. For example, to prepare bonded joints for the so-called cold body-in-white, basically only certain areas of the component would have to be cleaned and pre-treated. The new processes based on laser technology are therefore intended to make the cleaning of car body parts much more environmentally friendly. "The automotive industry wants to say goodbye to environmentally harmful chemical processes, which are mainly used for cleaning components. With our short pulse lasers, we can make a decisive contribution to sustainable production," says Steffen Rübling, product manager at TRUMPF responsible for the short pulse laser division.

Laser technology knows no diminishing cleaning effect

"Laser technology is benefiting from the trend towards so-called cold body-in-white in the automotive industry, with adhesive joints being increasingly used in car body construction. This is where our short-pulse lasers come into their own. Compared to conventional methods, users save water and chemical cleaning agents," explains Rübling. Moreover, the short-pulse lasers clean the components only where it is actually necessary. With this method, car manufacturers can dispense with post-processing altogether. Moreover, laser cleaning does not suffer from a decline in cleaning performance, as is the case with chemicals.

Structuring surfaces is also quick and environmentally friendly

To ensure that the bonded joints last, car manufacturers usually have to prepare the surfaces additionally - for example, by selectively introducing structures. Here, too, short-pulse lasers offer advantages over previous methods: "Laser structuring is a clean, fast and non-contact alternative to sandblasting, etching with chemicals or milling. The short-pulse lasers from TRUMPF can structure a wide variety of metals," says Rübling. To do this, the user only has to adjust the parameters of the laser depending on the metal, such as the laser power and process speed. Cleaning the surfaces with wet chemicals or abrasives, on the other hand, requires time-consuming masking of the parts, he says. "This drives up costs and makes cleaning more time-consuming than it needs to be," explains Rübling.

Lasers make production of e-car batteries more sustainable and efficient

In the field of electromobility, too, there are applications where TRUMPF's short-pulse lasers can show off their advantages. For example, individual battery cells are glued together to form battery packs. In order for the adhesive to adhere better, the laser cleans and structures the corresponding areas on the metal before bonding. But it is not only TRUMPF's short-pulse lasers that are used in electromobility; the VCSEL high-power infrared laser systems from TRUMPF Photonic Components are also in demand there. These mini lasers dry battery foils for electric cars by distributing the infrared heat directly and evenly over the entire length of the battery foil, almost entirely without energy loss. The process is thus noticeably more efficient and also much faster than previous methods. In addition, the VCSEL heating systems require significantly less space in the production line compared to standard ovens. "Electromobility is one of the most important strategic growth areas for our VCSEL heating systems. We are pleased to contribute to the future of mobility with our solutions by enabling more efficient manufacturing," says Ralph Gudde, responsible for sales at TRUMPF Photonic Components.

Laser technology from TRUMPF helps to avoid fine dust

But that's not all the advantages of laser technology. With high-speed laser buildup welding, TRUMPF has also brought a process to industrial maturity that can help reduce the abrasion of brake discs and thus fine dust emissions. This laser process can also provide corrosion protection, which is particularly important for the brake discs of electric vehicles. These work with recuperation, i.e. energy recovery, and therefore use the disc brake less frequently. The brake discs therefore accumulate flash rust more quickly, which leads to even more particulate matter when braking and can also necessitate premature replacement. "The combination of high area rate, high layer quality and our approaches to increasing efficiency and saving powder make our laser solutions very attractive for an industrial scale application. Just as the automotive industry needs," says Marco Göbel-Leonhäuser, industry manager for laser build-up welding at TRUMPF.