Photonics and laser-engraving to the rescue of hydrodynamics

February 03, 2020 //By Julien Happich
Under the €4.7 million MultiFlex project, European scientists are developing a 1kw, ‘dot matrix’ ultrafast laser system that can rapidly engrave large surfaces with micro-patterns, creating flow-optimised metal or plastic surfaces.

Etching tiny ‘spike’ structures onto sheet metal or plastic, the new laser system can create a rough surface at a microscopic level, mimicking shark's flesh which is covered in millions of microscopic denticles that reduce drag to make it a highly efficient swimmer. Similarly, engraved metal or plastic surfaces can have 'anti-fouling' properties that prevent contaminants or microorganisms from clinging on.

Funded by the Photonics Public Private Partnership (Photonics PPP), the scientists anticipate that such specially-designed structures could be engraved on steel ship hulls to help reduce fuel consumption and replace toxic ship paints and varnishes that are harmful to the environment. “Besides maritime components, application fields can be found in aircraft and turbomachinery. Here, surface structures might inhibit cavitation and thus improve lifetimes of propellers of propulsion systems or water turbines”, commented Dr Johannes Finger, coordinator of the MultiFlex project. “Our photonics system can also create design textures or ‘microcavities’. Here the environment benefits by replacing environmental problematic technologies like chemical etching,” said Dr Finger.

Ultrashort Pulsed (USP) or 'Ultrafast' lasers can ablate any material without damaging it. Surfaces cut with a USP are smooth, on a micron-scale and ideal for many industries where hard materials need to be processed with the highest precision.

Resembling a giant chessboard, the world's first 'dot matrix' laser system developed during the MultiFlex project splits a single beam into a grid of 64 ‘beamlets’, where every single ray can be turned on, off, positioned, and individually ‘tuned’.

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