The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) and three partners are spearheading MultiPROmobil, an NRW Leitmarkt Project that aims to develop multi-functional laser tools that could help to overcome existing production challenges for electric vehicle designs.
The MultiPROmobil project kicked off in November 2018 and is being coordinated by Fraunhofer ILT, with participation from Bergmann & Steffen GmbH, CAE Innovative Engineering GmbH and the Laser Processing and Consulting Centre (LBBZ GmbH). In the shortest terms, the project is aimed at the development of a multi-functional laser processing head and robot technology to enable the flexible and economical production of sheet metal component assemblies.
The multi-functional laser will combine a number of capabilities, including cutting, welding and additive manufacturing. The partners believe that the hybrid functionalities will help to overcome production and technical challenges that exist in the e-mobility sphere.
“In volatile markets, laser technology combined with digitalization is a predestined enabler for cost-effective production,” said Dr. Dirk Petring, the group leader for Macro Joining and Cutting at Fraunhofer ILT and the coordinator of the project. “Multi-functional robot technology with a universal laser tool for separating, joining and additive manufacturing processes in semi-bionic lightweight e-mobility—MultiPROmobil.”
The MultiPROmobil project it using a combi-head configuration from Laserfact GmbH, which has been in development for the past few years. This head is designed to enable users to cut and weld; in the future, it will also be possible to additively manufacture structures. Presently, additive functionalities are achieved by using a replaceable nozzle module. The goal, however, is to integrate all three processes into a single laser head, which could alternate between cutting, welding and 3D printing on the fly.
In addition to developing the multi-functional laser hardware, the MultiPROmobil project is also tasked with the development of an intelligent design and simulation software for optimizing the process chain. CAE Innovative Engineering is leveraging digital twin technology to digitally image machines, processes and components so certain elements of the process chain can be improved.
A flexible process chain will enable the MultiPROmobil partners to digitally display electric vehicle components and subsequently test and evaluate them. As the project advances, the multi-function robot will be implemented at an LBBZ facility where it will produce semi-bionic vehicle parts with a laser. For instance, the robotic configuration will be used to produce a triangular control arm for an electric vehicle, first by cutting, then by welding and finally by reinforcing it with additive structures. All this will be completed without a single tool change.
Down the line, a number of multi-functional robots could be deployed as highly flexible manufacturing cells to produce various parts for electric vehicles. Notably, the MultiPROmobil project aims to increase production efficiency and reduce startup times by roughly 30%. The project partners also aim to reduce unit costs and resource consumption by at least 20% each.
Dr. Petring added: “With agile, laser-based manufacturing, process chains for the production of sheet metal assemblies can be made very flexible and scalable so that they can be gradually introduced into electromobility applications.”
The cutting and welding combi-head by Laserfact is already being used in the industry for a range of uses, but the hope in adding the third functionality to the system—along with process chain software—is that the technology will be adopted by small- and medium-sized companies that are shaping the e-mobility market.
The MultiPROmobil project has a three-year timeline and is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.