Tiny structures, enormous benefits
Dr. Jens König and his team have registered more than 40 patents based on their new ultrashort pulse laser technology. In an interview, the 37-year-old father of two explains exactly how he managed to tame the laser for use in industrial manufacturing and the concrete advantages this has for people and the environment.
Dr. König, how did you earn the title of laser tamer?
Through my long years of work on developing laser technology. There were two aspects to harnessing the huge peak outputs of over 100 megawatts. First, we had to establish the correct settings for the laser’s parameters, such as pulse duration and energy. The second key factor was the correct dynamic placement of the laser pulses on the component. This type of control is achieved through technology Bosch developed itself. The contributions made by many different experts from research, manufacturing, plant engineering, and product development at Bosch were also of vital importance. I am very grateful to my colleagues for their contributions.
Where exactly is Bosch using ultrashort pulse lasers?
I can currently highlight four products. In exhaust-gas sensor technology, we are producing lambda sensors that reduce pollutant emissions. The injection holes for gasoline direct injection and the drainage grooves in our diesel injectors are also drilled using lasers. The injector for the Buderus Logano plus 145 oil burner has also been improved using ultrashort pulse lasers.
Why is it so important?
Since the extreme heat of laser drilling sublimates the material rather than melting it, we are able to process much finer structures much more precisely, because there is no melted material left behind making the surface uneven.
Our great achievement was combining fundamental research and profitability.
My boss and I have always believed that this is a technology with great promise for the future.
Let’s take gasoline direct injection as an example. In this process, fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber through a valve. For optimum combustion, it must be distributed very accurately. The tiny holes (0.1 to 0.25 millimeters in diameter) through which the gasoline is injected play a very important role here, since their position, form, and microgeometry are crucial to achieving the correct distribution in the cylinder. Even the roughness of the holes’ wall surfaces is important. When the holes are correctly configured, the cylinder walls and pistons are no longer wetted with fuel, and the gasoline burns completely.
And that saves fuel?
Yes. Enhanced gasoline direct injection systems can result in fuel savings of up to 20 percent. If you apply that to the approximately 26 billion liters of gasoline consumed annually in Germany, this technology could mean as much as 12 million metric tons less CO2 being emitted. The new Buderus oil burner is now up to 15 percent more efficient thanks to ultrashort pulse lasers. This, too, adds up to a saving of almost 2 billion liters of heating oil, or as much as 5 million metric tons of CO2.
What have you set your sights on taming next?
Ultrashort pulse technology is still in its infancy. Of course, we are continuing to develop it further with colleagues from manufacturing and product engineering. I can’t say too much as yet, but the range of potential future applications is huge – everything from microelectronics, industrial technology, and hydraulics to further improvements in injection technology.
But before I can get going on that, I have to go home tonight and tame my two children, so that I can get them to bed on time.
Minute holes in the hardest materials –
oil burners save fuel and help protect the environment thanks to tiny holes in the injector.