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Laser polishing machine could put hand buffers out of work

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October 7, 2011

A new system uses lasers to polish hard surfaces, and it can do so in as little as one ten...

A new system uses lasers to polish hard surfaces, and it can do so in as little as one tenth the time it takes to do so by hand (Photo: Douglas Muth)

When it comes to laborious, monotonous tasks that are typically performed by hand, the polishing of hard materials has got to rank right near the top. Although a really lustrous shine may still require the human touch, scientists have now developed a process for getting a "good enough" shine, using lasers. Instead of removing a fine layer of the material's surface, which is what traditional buffers and polishes do, the lasers melt it.

The system was developed by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology, in collaboration with the companies Maschinenfabrik Arnold and S&F Systemtechnik. While it could presumably have many applications, it is intended mainly for use on the inside surfaces of metal molds. According to Fraunhofer, such molds are presently polished by hand at a rate of ten minutes per square centimeter.

The main components are a 5-axis gantry system (which holds the mold), and a 3-axis laser, which together allow the laser's beam to access the inside contours of the mold from pretty much every possible angle. The beam is deflected off angled mirrors, which control the rate at which it travels along the surface of the metal. It is able to move as quickly as one meter (3.28 feet) per second, even on small pieces.

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs, which will likely already be in use by most manufacturers anyway, are used to build a 3D model of the mold. The system can then plan a path for the laser, based on that model.

The laser melts a surface layer just 20 to 100 micrometers deep. The surface tension of the melted material ensures that it will reset evenly. While the end result won't be quite as smooth as what could be achieved by hand, it should be fine for things like glass and tool molds. It will also take as little as one-tenth the amount of time.

Fraunhofer's laser polishing machine should be commercially available soon, and will be unveiled in November at the 2011 EuroMold exhibition in Frankfurt.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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5 Comments

will it wax my car so I do not have to rub off the pain in the arse Carnuba wax stuff that my Audi Avant wants to to have slathered all over her luxurious body, yes of course, she is red, very sharp, she is an '89 back when you could tell an Acura TL from a MickieBenz c class from the rear

Bill Bennett
7th October, 2011 @ 08:38 pm PDT

To Bill....not unless you want your paint burned 20-100 micrometers deep.

VoiceofReason
8th October, 2011 @ 01:04 pm PDT

Why not a six-axis CNC polishing head? I'm sure it could do the job a lot faster than 10 minutes per square cm and wouldn't cost as much as a laser system. Might use a bit less energy, as well.

Gadgeteer
9th October, 2011 @ 09:32 am PDT

It's actually very clever - like flame glazing the edges of sharp bits of glass tube...

Glazing or glossing the surface of die casting dies, by just lightly melting the surface layer - making it all smooth.

Very nice.

Mr Stiffy
9th October, 2011 @ 07:42 pm PDT

can this thing polish marble or granite flooring.

Vidyadhara Buddhiraju
11th October, 2011 @ 06:29 am PDT
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