Munich, April 25, 2011 - Modern optical technologies, frequently used in automobile manufacturing, are now finding their way into the automobile itself.

Car manufacturers already use CO2 and sold-state lasers for cutting and welding automobile body sheet metal. Modern, laser-based production systems are particularly effective for lightweight construction and plastics processing. Research institutes and industrial enterprises are designing sustainable and efficient components including alternative drive units, driver assistance systems and lighting systems, all using optical technologies. Now, optical systems are being integrated in the vehicle itself, for example using intelligent lighting technologies to actively improve driving safety in all weather conditions and in all driving situations.

Recognizing this trend, LASER World of PHOTONICS 2011 will present products and applications for future mobile applications in the exhibition areas "Laser and laser systems for production engineering" and "Green photonics".

Lasers for the drive unit

A major development effort is aimed at more efficient combustion engines and alternative drive units, and optical technologies can help optimize existing systems. For example, laser-based methods for producing drivetrain components to reduce frictional losses during power transmission also contribute to reducing the weight of the individual components. Laser production of drivetrain components leads to lower vehicle emissions and improved output power.

In order to minimize weight while remaining highly stable, carbon fiber-reinforced plastic components will be increasingly used in the future. The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) will demonstrate new automobile production engineering methods using a Tesla Roadster V2.5 Sport as a testbed. They will showcase microjoining processes for the Tesla hybrid drive unit and welding methods for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries on Stand 330 in Hall C2.

More energy for new drive concepts

"Electric and hybrid vehicles are posing great challenges in production engineering since thermally sensitive materials, for example inside a lithium-ion battery, are joined together here," said Arnold Gillner, Head of the Ablation and Joining Competence Field at the Fraunhofer ILT. "Thanks to new high-powered laser beam sources such as ultra-short pulse lasers and highly brilliant fibre lasers, laser technology is able to further increase the potential of resource-conserving construction methods and vehicle concepts, and sustainably produce an environmentally-friendly and energy-saving traffic concept."

In the production of high-performance battery systems for electric cars, the trend is towards battery systems comprising several lithium-ion accumulator cells. The challenge is to weld dissimilar materials such as aluminium and copper. Pulsed solid-state lasers and so-called "firmly bonded" processes such as laser-based welding and soldering have been found far more efficient than screwing together joints.

Lasers are essential in hybrid car production, where they are used to join different fuel cell components. A special show entitled "Photons in Production" will be presented C1 in cooperation with the Institute for Machine Tools and Industrial Management of Munich Technical University and the Bavarian Laser Centre in Hall C1.

"Future drive concepts will continually change production technology for automobiles. In particular, the use of new material combinations and systematic pursuance of lightweight construction concepts are resulting in new challenges for laser technology," explained Prof. Michael Schmidt from the Bavarian Laser Centre, and Prof. Michael F. Zäh from the Institute for Machine Tools and Industrial Management of Munich Technical University.

Lasers for car bodies

Laser-based joining techniques in automobile construction have been increasingly replacing conventional welding methods. New, solid-state lasers such as diode-pumped disk lasers are being used to cut thin metal sheets. Laser welding produces better car doors than conventional joining methods. The laser's lower mechanical and thermal load on the materials results in higher weld seam strength with narrower joins. Consequently, this process leads to lighter and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

TRUMPF Laser- und Systemtechnik GmbH will exhibit innovative solid-state lasers for remote laser welding in automobile manufacturing in the exhibition area "Lasers and laser systems for production engineering" on Stand 341 in Hall C2. The high beam quality allows exact focusing of the lasers even at a longer distance from the workpiece. The new laser generation can therefore be used far more flexibly in different production systems. With 0.4 seconds per welding point, the diode-pumped disk laser is also five times quicker than traditional resistance welding.

Erlas Erlanger Lasertechnik GmbH will present a completely new system solution for material processing on Stand 103 in Hall C2. The hybrid system combines a fiber-coupled laser with an optical scanner in a multi-axis, very flexible guidance system. The optical scanner focuses the laser on the component, thus reducing the laser positioning time and leading to quicker throughput. In particular, welding a large number of seams - a frequent operation in automobile production - becomes much more efficient.

Lasers and lighting

LEDs are replacing current bulbs inside vehicles. Some high-end car manufacturers recently began offering full LED headlights. The intelligent light systems can adjust the inclination of the light cone to the body by lowering the LED modules or changing the light diffusion, depending on the visibility conditions, in order to reduce glare during fog or rain.

One of the main advantages of LEDs is their energy efficiency. About 98% of the input energy is converted to light energy. Also, since the LED beam angle can be controlled, LEDs are also used for other motor vehicle applications.

Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) might be used to create entirely new automobile displays. The ultra-thin display panels can be integrated, for example, in the steering wheel and are transparent when switched off. LED and OLED applications for car lights will be presented by the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems on Stand 417 in Hall B2.

Automobile manufacturing in the World of Photonics Congress

The latest laser-based solutions for automobile manufacturing will be presented, in addition to the exhibition area "Lasers and laser systems for production engineering", in the World of Photonics Congress in Halls C1 and C2. During the practical talk "Latest laser applications in automobile manufacturing", TRUMPF Laser- und Systemtechnik GmbH, and Daimler AG will describe applications for more efficient production in the Photonics Forum on Stand 569 in Hall C2.