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Modulase: Re-Configurable Laser Processing Head

Introduction

The Modulase project was created to develop a re-configurable laser processing head capable of performing three different processes: Welding, cutting and cladding.

The system is able to perform the three different processes through the use of three modular end-effectors.

Modulase also includes in-process monitoring through the use of intelligent sensor technologies.

The monitoring system allows for adaptive process control, quality assurance, and semi-automated process parameter configuration.

About the Modulase re-configurable laser processing head (VIDEO)

Business Needs

Although the capital cost of fibre lasers has reduced recently and the inherent flexibility they provide in performing a range of materials processing applications, fibre lasers are not seen as an attractive flexible tool for medium volume and medium variety applications by industry. This view is a result of a number of drawbacks associated with fibre lasers:

  • Laser welding, cladding and cutting all require different laser beam energy distributions. Differing power densities, stand-off distances and Rayleigh lengths are required depending on the process being performed and the process requirements. Laser process heads have fixed optical components that produce a laser beam energy distribution suitable for just one process and a narrow range of applications.
  • Laser welding, cladding and cutting have different gas, wire/powder feed requirements depending on which process is being performed. Some processes may require additional functionalities, such as the inclusion of cutting assist gas, wire feeds or inert gas shielding. These different functionalities are built into the laser process head, meaning that each process head is only suitable for one particular process.
  • Quality assurance and quality control monitoring systems are process specific. Although systems use similar technologies the existing monitoring systems are typically provided for just one process.
  • Changing process heads is an effort intensive procedure that requires skilled personnel. A process head change generally takes between 2 and 4 hours to complete, which can equate to €1,000 in lost income for a job-shop or > €20,000 for a higher volume manufacturer. Changing the process head also risks optic contamination, which could potentially lead to ~ €10,000 in repair costs.

 

Despite these drawbacks, current manufacturing trends (such as increased automation) are driving a need to develop systems that are capable of performing a greater variety of manufacturing operations. The use of an adaptable laser process head capable of performing welding, cutting and cladding processes would deliver greater flexibility for fibre laser systems and allow system users to perform a wider variety of manufacturing operations.

Gas and powder standard delivery unit
Gas and powder standard delivery unit
Cutting end effector
Cutting end effector

Concept and Components

The Modulase system is a re-configurable laser processing head that is capable of performing welding, cutting and cladding processes. The system includes the following components:

  • Beam forming unit
  • Camera-based quality assurance unit (development led by AIMEN)
  • Gas delivery unit
  • Modular end effectors
  • Integrated software interface

The system includes dedicated software with a knowledge database and board algorithms which allow for the correct settings and process parameters to be calculated for each application. The camera-based monitoring unit is integrated into the processing head and is compatible with all three of the processes performed by the system.

Benefits

The ModuLase project aims to provide cost and time-saving benefits to industry, including:

  • Lower capital investment costs:

End users will save as much as 59% when installing the Modulase head (with three end effectors). Greater savings could be made if more end-effectors are adopted by users and further savings may be realised when replacing end-effectors due to wear or damage.

  • Reduced downtime:

Users will be able to get more use out of equipment as a result of reduced downtimes for those using Modulase. With an anticipated changeover time of <1 minute for process heads, there will be improved utilisation rates. In addition, the Modulase system will allow manufacturers to adopt parallel process cell layouts, which would reduce the risk of production line stoppages.

  • Reduced running costs:

The modular end-effectors are easily and cheaply replaceable while reconfiguring the beam forming unit to match the required bean configuration will also help save time and cost. In addition, the integrated process control and monitoring system can help minimise, if not eliminate, defects thereby saving on re-work or scrappage.

 

The ModuLase project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Welding end effector
Welding end effector
Cladding end effector
Cladding end effector

For more information please email:


contactus@twi.co.uk