The German Future Prize was presented to a team of experts from Trumpf, Bosch and the University of Jena on 6 December. This highly respected prize has been awarded annually since 1997 and comes with €250,000 prize money.
Federal President Joachim Gauck awarded the prize at an official ceremony in Berlin to Dr. Jens König of Bosch, Dr. Dirk Sutter of Trumpf and Professor Stefan Nolte of the University of Jena, Germany.
The three researchers have turned ultrashort pulse lasers into a tool for industrial mass production. The ultrashort pulse laser, which emits up to 24,000 pulses of energy, processes almost any material gently, precisely and with high productivity. It can drill ultrafine holes into metal, cuts medical stents from tiny polymer tubes and shatterproof touchscreens for smartphone displays, structures the surfaces of thin-film solar cells, and cuts through ultrathin plastic foil, brittle ceramic components and diamond.
‘With the ultrashort pulse laser we've opened a door into a new realm – and we won't know its precise size or full details about it for a very long time,’ says Dr. Peter Leibinger, vice chairman of Trumpf and president of the Laser Technology and Electronics Division. ‘That is why micro-processing using lasers like this is a production technology of the future – and German companies are the world leaders here. We regard the award of the German Future Prize as reflecting the industrial and political relevance of our joint innovations, which is why we're very proud to receive it,’ added Leibinger.
The German President has given the ultrashort pulse laser its award in a decisive phase. The technology is entering new sectors of mass production and replacing conventional methods such as mechanical drilling, eroding or chemical etching.
‘I'm assuming that the production figures will continue to rise steeply in the future, since the technology offers great advantages for numerous fields of application,’ says prize-winner Dr. Dirk Sutter, in charge of ultrashort pulse laser research and development at Trumpf Laser in Schramberg, Germany. The special feature of the process is that no heat is transferred to the material and no residue is left over. This is because the ultrashort pulse only heats the material locally and so intensely that it is ejected and vaporised before the heat can be transferred. This enables the finest of areas just a few micrometers in diameter to be ablated – with no melt residue, no heat-influence zone and, consequently, no need for refinishing.
Meanwhile, the next generation of ultrashort pulse lasers is already being produced at Trumpf. Femtosecond lasers, with even shorter pulse durations, will be applying this technology to even smaller structures and broadening its range of possibilities even further.