For taming the power of lasers: Bosch, Trumpf, and the University of Jena win the German Future Prize Joachim Gauck: "Innovative strength safeguards prosperity and welfare"

  • New tool for precision metalworking
  • Laser pulses overcome the limits of industrial production
  • From the laboratory to the shop floor - key technology in use around the world
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  • October 04, 2013
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Breaking the chains - Associates from Bosch, Trumpf, the University of Jena, and the Fraunhofer IOT have won the German Federal President's Future Prize for technology and innovation. The victory recognizes the way they have opened up revolutionary new perspectives in industrial production. The joint efforts of these partners have brought ultrashort laser pulses out of the research laboratory and into the factory for the first time. The new tool is being used here to turn engineers' ideas into products that were previously not possible - provided you know how to tame the power of laser to your needs, as Bosch does.

Berlin/Stuttgart - Huge success for Bosch, Trumpf, and the University of Jena. The German Federal President announced in Berlin on Wednesday evening that their use of extremely short laser pulses to open up new perspectives in industrial production has earned Dr. Jens König, Prof. Dr. Stefan Nolte, and Dr. Dirk Sutter the President's Future Prize. The concentrated power of the laser pulses allows any material to be processed quickly, precisely, and economically, and this on a mass scale.

Basic research for new products
Basic research and development were conducted in Germany. Production and new jobs were also established here. This means that Germany also profits from the economic benefits. This manufacturing technology makes many new products possible, and a lot of people are already benefiting from their improved functions. These include engines and heating systems with lower emissions and improved fuel efficiency. It is also possible to reduce wear on surfaces, or improve the tolerance of medical implants, so that they keep narrowed arteries open longer than has previously been the case. Smartphones will benefit, too. The glass used for their screens and cameras is becoming so thin and scratch-resistant that these lasers are almost the only tool that can cut it.

The award
The German Future Prize - the Federal President's award for innovation and technology - recognizes exceptional scientific achievements with high economic potential. "It is precisely this combination that defines the innovative strength of our country and safeguards our prosperity and welfare," said German Federal President Joachim Gauck about the prestigious award, which has been given annually since 1997. It is the highest in this field. The judging panel is made up of independent experts from science and business life.

The nominated team
"We are very proud of this recognition, and are constantly developing the huge potential of this technology for new applications. Innovations such as this safeguard the technical advantage of Germany as an industrial location and create new jobs," the three-man team said. Their official spokesman is Jens König, a Bosch researcher. Dirk Sutter heads research and development of ultrashort pulse lasers at Trumpf Laser GmbH + Co. KG. Stefan Nolte works in Jena as Professor of Experimental and Laser Physics at the Friedrich Schiller University and at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering. Through their creativity and persistence they have made this technology available for industrial production for the first time. The foundations for this were laid through the PRIMUS and PROMPTUS projects, both sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and coordinated by Bosch. At Bosch alone, nearly 30 million products have already been manufactured using this technology. And this number will rise rapidly. The partners were nominated jointly and equally.

Joint effort
Stefan Nolte's studies laid the scientific foundations for this technology, and have been cited by experts more than 2,000 times worldwide. At the beginning of the subsequent collaboration between Bosch and Trumpf, it still was not clear how the laser pulses should be designed in order to satisfy the exacting standards of industrial manufacturing. For example, what kind of pulse duration, frequency, and intensity would be needed to achieve highly precise and productive processing, and that reliably over hundreds of billions of pulses? Jens König and his colleagues painstakingly studied and defined the requirements and specifications that the laser must have - for example, in order to drill the finest possible holes in metal for gasoline direct-injection systems. In close collaboration with Trumpf, ever better lasers started to take shape. At the same time, ultrashort pulse technology was also further refined to its current high standard. Finally, Bosch succeeded in achieving a world first - namely, operating the laser in the machines it developed in-house so precisely that reliable mass production was possible, with all the associated benefits.

Outgrowing the laboratory
In doing so, this new tool finally outgrew Stefan Nolte's laboratory and became part of industrial technology. In the meantime, many other manufacturers - including ones outside Germany - are taking their lead from this successful model. As the market leader in this field, Trumpf currently produces the most powerful lasers on the market. Bosch produces in high volumes for a market that demands the highest quality. The parties involved have so far published over 40 patents. Sales revenue from these laser systems and the products manufactured using them is expected to exceed one billion euros next year. More applications are also on the horizon - both at Bosch and in other industries. In the long run, it also benefits mechanical engineering, which is an important pillar of the German economy.

Better than melting - controlled sublimation
If a conventional laser beam strikes a material such as metal, the metal heats up, melts, and partly evaporates. However, it is very difficult to control the behavior of molten materials. Frequently, this can result in unevenness, or in burrs when the molten material hardens again. Precision is reduced accordingly. The part then has to be reworked, which costs time and money. Diamonds and sapphires cannot be processed in this way at all.

Used correctly, ultrashort laser pulses provide the solution for manufacturing processes. By correctly selecting the right pulse duration and energy, and by focusing the laser correctly, the material is irradiated so fast and so powerfully that it sublimates - that is, it evaporates without visibly melting - at around 6,000 degrees Celsius. This enables tiny areas only a few millionths of a millimeter (nanometers) in size to be successively removed. A computer-controlled system of mirrors directs the laser pulses to the right spot at lightning speed. Hundreds of thousands of pulses per second enable melt-free, high-precision machining. A current of air provides the suction needed to remove the sublimated material.

The manufacturing machinery and systems developed by Bosch concentrate the laser beam extremely precisely on a tiny area, and only this area sublimates. The surrounding material, meanwhile, is not fatigued and does not even become brittle. Heat only spreads about a thousandth of a millimeter into the surrounding material. Engineers call this "cold processing." Using this process, despite the highly concentrated energy of the laser, it is even possible to produce fine structures on the head of a match without it catching fire.

What this makes possible
All this opens up completely new possibilities for contactless processing of almost any material - from diamonds and hard glass to steel, semiconductors, ceramics, and the most sensitive plastics. The laser can be used anywhere to drill, cut, structure, or mill almost any shape required. Bosch has mastered the fine art of controlling laser power in the best possible way for the task at hand. Once it has been adjusted, the focused beam also performs its work extremely quickly.

Examples at Bosch
Applications at Bosch include drilling the extremely fine nozzles in its gasoline direct injection valves, which also contributes to reducing fuel consumption in gasoline engines by up to 20 percent and to fulfilling the strictest emission standards. The injection holes created in this way make the distribution of fuel more precise, as allow it to be adapted to the shape of the combustion chamber. This was not possible in the same way with previous manufacturing processes and tools. Engines with medium-sized, small, and very small displacements can now achieve even better fuel distribution. The result - all vehicle classes can benefit from the lower consumption and emissions associated with gasoline direct injection. Currently, 14 engine projects with nine customers employ laser-drilled injectors. That equates to approximately two million vehicles. This trend is set to continue.

Another example is the sensor element in the LSU-ADV lambda sensor. The laser processes each one of these with quite different structures. This doubles the measuring precision. In addition, it enables the sensor's warm-up period after engine ignition to be reduced from 20 seconds to three. The result is a significant reduction in emissions, especially after cold starts, which are a cause of increased exhaust emissions. The laser is also used for Bosch diesel injectors. And in the Buderus Logano plus 145 oil-fired heating boiler, this 3D micromachining has resulted in a completely new injector that ensures extremely fine atomization of fuel. This gives the oil similar combustion properties to gas, and results in combustion that is as quiet as a whisper and uses up to 15 percent less heating oil. Bosch is researching many more products that will gain new or improved functions through this type of production. No end is yet in sight to the possible applications.

Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner: "Great recognition"
"This award is a great recognition of our work," said Volkmar Denner, chairman of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH. "This precision tool is enabling us to manufacture innovative products cost-effectively. For example, economical gasoline direct injection has established itself on a broad scale thanks to the laser technology used in our manufacturing facilities. This is a great example of how the products we create at Bosch contribute to sustainability. This is what we mean by 'Invented for life.'" Denner added, "Innovations such as this create and safeguard jobs. This is true both in Germany and other western regions, as well as in the emerging markets of Asia. This helps us strengthen our position as one of the world's largest automotive suppliers. We will continue to use this tool to manufacture fascinating products in the future."

A long, hard road
Bosch has been using lasers to manufacture products for over 36 years now. Despite this experience, it took a lot of work to transfer micromachining with ultrashort pulse lasers from university laboratory benches to the shop floor. Bosch conducts considerable industrial research to this end. "It takes results from science and combines these with its own findings and perseverance to make them ready for industrial use. Processing materials using ultrashort laser pulses is a prime example of this," said Dr. Klaus Dieterich, president of Bosch research and advance engineering. It took approximately ten years to achieve this breakthrough.

Good prospects for Bosch - and other industries
By the end of 2013, Bosch will have supplied its customers with around 30 million components manufactured using this technology, and this figure will continue to rise. The Bosch manufacturing plant in Bursa, Turkey, is already putting this technology to use. The Bosch location in Bamberg is the lead plant.

In other areas, such as the electronics industry, the laser pulses are used to separate individual chips from silicon wafers with great precision, or to drill minute holes in miniaturized circuit boards. Thanks to the lasers, innovative stents can be carved out of special plastics in such a way that they keep constricted blood vessels open longer and at the same time release medication directly at the correct location. The small, extremely scratch-resistant glass covers for cell phone cameras are also cut using lasers. In industrial technology and hydraulics, this production method is helping reduce wear through special surface structuring. With this production technology, it is equally possible to process cutting-edge carbon fiber composites and drill spinnerets for functional fibers in the textile industry. In each of these cases, the key is in taming the energy of the laser for use in industrial production.

Background 1: Detailed examples of applications

Application 1: Gasoline direct injection for all types of car
In gasoline direct injection, fuel is injected into the combustion chamber directly via a valve. For optimum combustion, it must be distributed very accurately. The tiny holes (0.1 to 0.25 millimeters in diameter) that the gasoline is injected through have an enormous influence on this. The position, shape, and microgeometry of these holes play a significant role in achieving the correct distribution in the cylinder. Even the roughness of the hole wall surfaces is important. If the holes are correctly designed, fuel droplets are no longer deposited on the cylinder walls and pistons, and the gasoline burns completely. Gasoline direct injection complies with the latest exhaust gas standards and can also save up to 20 percent on fuel.

Application 2: Swirl valve for new oil-fired heating boiler
One newly developed application for ultrashort pulse lasers at Bosch is to produce swirl valves for the Buderus Logano plus 145 regulated oil-fired heating boiler. The minuscule laser-drilled holes ensure that the heating oil swirls as it is injected into the combustion chamber, and is extremely finely atomized. This creates a huge number of tiny droplets that have an immense total surface area. The result is particularly good combustion - the combustion of the oil is now similar to that of gas. Thanks to this technology, the boiler can be continuously modulated, producing only the exact amount of heat that is currently required. This special feature would not be possible without the fine laser-drilled holes. But that's not all. The boiler also uses a Bosch lambda sensor. This measures the oxygen content of the exhaust gas and ensures that exactly the right amount of fuel is burned. Used in conjunction, these features reduce oil consumption by up to 15 percent.

Application 3: Faster and more precise lambda sensors
Lambda sensors ensure the best possible air-fuel mix in the engine. Using this as a basis, the three-way catalytic converter reduces the levels of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxides, and nitrous oxides in the exhaust gas by up to 99 percent. This meets even the strictest exhaust emission limits. Using ultrashort pulse lasers, it was possible to produce new lambda sensors with even finer, separate structures. These measure twice as precisely as before. Their warm-up time after the engine starts is reduced from 20 seconds to three. The result is a significant reduction in exhaust emissions, especially after cold starts. Error correction, which was previously separate, now takes place on the sensor directly. This makes it so responsive that it is even possible to measure and regulate the exhaust gas composition of individual cylinders.

Application 4: Drainage groove in the diesel injector
State-of-the-art systems for injecting diesel into the cylinder work at very high pressure - approximately 1,800 bar. This places exceptional demands on the construction of the diesel injector and the permissible tolerances. To ensure that no diesel can escape uncontrolled under any circumstances during operation, Bosch uses ultrashort laser pulses to add an extremely fine channel to the diesel injector. This drainage groove is a tiny semi-circle with a radius of three millimeters, and is only approximately 60 microns wide and deep. Under particularly high levels of stress - for example when driving in ice-cold Alaska or the scorching hot Sahara - this fine groove would collect any escaping fuel and divert it back into the correct circuit. This ensures that the system is always completely sealed.

Application 5: Thin-film photovoltaics
Thin-film solar modules are one of the bright hopes of the energy revolution, since they require little material and achieve high levels of efficiency. Up till now, however, production costs have been too high. Here as well, laser-based manufacturing has paved the way for a new solution. The solar modules have to be given structures in various work steps. In cutting-edge systems such as CIGS or CIS modules, it is currently possible to do this mechanically using a stylus. However, this is neither precise nor economical enough for industrial applications. The structuring can be achieved much more quickly and with greater precision using ultrashort pulse lasers. In this way, it is possible to optimize the architecture of the solar modules, and thus make them more efficient. Production is also more cost-effective thanks to parallel processing at high speeds. By using lasers in their production, thin-film solar modules achieve a significantly higher level of efficiency at lower manufacturing cost.

Application 6: Better tolerated implants
Stents are tiny supports that keep narrowed blood vessels open. If they are to be used in their millions they have to have smooth cut surfaces without any burrs, so that platelets do not gather there. Rough surfaces are frequently the reason why vessels held open by stents become blocked again through the formation of new tissue. Most stents used to be made of steel. The medical profession tends to use nitinol more today. This shape memory alloy is very sensitive to temperature, fatigues less, is tolerated better by patients, and exhibits fewer recurring blockages. However, the material is so sensitive to heat that it is very difficult to produce nitinol stents using conventional processes, making them expensive. Because they provide a "cold" process, because they are flexible, and especially because of the precise cuts they achieve without the need for reworking, ultrashort pulse lasers are perfect for producing nitinol stents.

Application 7: Cutting tempered glass
Touch-sensitive cell phone displays have replaced keypads in many cases. Cutting-edge devices include as many as four sheets of glass. On the outside, a chemically tempered cover glass protects the display from damage, scratches, and dirt. This cover glass is often just 0.7 millimeters thick - after all, the cell phone needs to be as light as possible. Conventional cutting methods are unable to cope with this. Milling would require costly reworking, such as polishing and grinding. Ultrashort pulse lasers, on the other hand, create a cut edge that is far better than any milling could achieve. The quality, and even the angle, of the edge can be determined.

Other applications:
  • Applying structure and lettering to surfaces (e.g. for anti-forgery and anti-counterfeiting measures on transparent materials and glass containers such as high-quality perfume bottles).
  • Precise holes in electronic devices, with smooth edges and without burring.
  • Highly precise cutting of semiconductor wafers with micrometer-sized kerfs for LED applications.
  • Machining carbon fiber composites.
Background 2: Incredible numbers

  • A single laser pulse used in manufacturing operations has a length of less than 0.00000000001 seconds (< ten picoseconds). By way of comparison - light takes just over one second to cover the distance from the earth to the moon (approximately 300,000 kilometers). A one-picosecond pulse of light, on the other hand, is just 0.3 millimeters long. A beam of light therefore travels just under one millimeter in three picoseconds. A picosecond is therefore a very short period of time. In fact, it is one trillionth of a second - put another way, it is a millionth of a millionth of a second.
  • The number of laser pulses when machining steel at Bosch: 400,000 to 800,000 a second.
  • Several hundreds of thousands of laser pulses are necessary to drill a single hole (0.1 to 0.25 mm in diameter) for an injector. At six to eight holes per injector, that means several million pulses are needed.
  • At the instant it is vaporized in a flash, the metal reaches a temperature of approximately 6,000 degrees Celsius. By way of comparison - the surface temperature of the sun is around 5,300 degrees Celsius.
  • - Depending on the material, the metal reaches this high temperature within two to 50 picoseconds.
Background 3: Tiny measurements of time and length

When using ultrashort pulse lasers, engineers have to master the tiniest measurements of time and length with great precision. Common sizes are:

 Timescale  Scale
 1 second (s)  Clocks
 1 millisecond (ms) = 0.001 seconds Fast camera shutters
 1 microsecond (µs) = 0.000001 seconds Explosions
 1 nanosecond (ns) = 0.000000001 seconds Fast digital electronics
 1 picosecond (ps) = 0.000000000001 seconds Movement in molecules
 1 femtosecond (fs) = 0.000000000000001 seconds Movement of electrons
 Size  Scale
 1 meter (m)  Height of a child
 1 centimeter = 0.01 meters 1.6 cm = Diameter of a
   1-eurocent coin
 1 millimeter (mm) = 0.001 meters 5 mm = Length of an aphid
 1 micrometer (µm)  = 0.000001 meters 100 µm = Diameter of
   a single laser-drilled hole
   70 µm = Diameter of human hair
 1 nanometer (nm) = 0.000000001 meters 10 nm = Size of a hemoglobin
   0.1 nm = Approximate size of an

Background 4: Ultrashort pulse lasers in production at Bosch

What materials can be processed using the ultrashort pulse laser?
  • Metals, semiconductors, ceramics, plastics, glass, diamond, sapphire, carbon fiber composites, and many more.

What is the ultrashort pulse laser capable of?
  • It is a universal tool. It can drill, cut, deburr, ablate, and create three-dimensional shapes. This is all achieved without touching the material or changing its characteristics.

What products or parts are produced at Bosch using the laser?
  • The sensor element for the LSU-ADV lambda sensor (lambda sensors help with exhaust treatment, among other things).
  • Drilling injection holes for HDEV5 gasoline direct injection valve (important for optimum combustion of the fuel).
  • Adding a drainage groove to the sealing connection of the CRI2-18 common-rail injector (important for sealing off the diesel injection).
  • 3D micromachining of the EV14 swirl injector for the Buderus Logano plus 145 oil-fired heating boiler (important for achieving the best-possible combustion of the heating fuel).
Background 5: The German Future Prize

The German Future Prize is the German Federal President's award for technology and innovation. It has been used since 1997 to recognize technological innovations with great economic potential. Many of the innovations that have received this honor are now an integral part of our everyday life. The prize-winning projects combine scientific achievements with economic success. You cannot apply for the prize - there are a number of high-ranking institutions that are entitled to make nominations. These include the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech (the German Academy of Engineering and Technology), the German Research Foundation, the German Patents and Trademark Office, the Werner von Siemens Ring Foundation, and the Max Planck Society.

Background 6: Economic information and prospects

  • The parties involved have currently published 42 patents in this area.
  • According to analysts, the market for ultrashort pulse laser systems doubled every year in the period from 2009 to 2012. This is expected to continue.
  • Sales revenue from these laser systems and the products manufactured using them is expected to exceed one billion euros next year. It is anticipated that the use of ultrashort laser pulses will spread to other industries.
  • From 2011 to 2012, the number of products manufactured by Bosch using ultrashort pulse laser technology rose from approximately 4.7 to 11.6 million units a year. A dramatic increase in the laser systems used and the products manufactured is planned for the next two years.
  • By the end of 2013, Bosch will have supplied around 30 million components manufactured using ultrashort pulse laser technology to its customers. Bosch currently has several facilities where this technology is in use. Further facilities will be installed by 2020 to handle products that are already being planned or are anticipated. It is expected that these will be producing more than 80 million Bosch products per year by then.

All press photos:

German Future Prize website:
German Federal President's website:
Robert Bosch GmbH website:
Trumpf Laser GmbH + Co. KG website:
University of Jena website:
Lambda sensors at Bosch:
Online-Special „The laser tamers":

Click here to find further information.

The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 375,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2015). The company generated sales of 70.6 billion euros in 2015. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 440 subsidiaries and regional companies in some 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing and sales network covers some 150 countries. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. Bosch employs 55,800 associates in research and development at 118 locations across the globe. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to deliver innovations for a connected life. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.”

The company was set up in Stuttgart in 1886 by Robert Bosch (1861-1942) as “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering.” The special ownership structure of Robert Bosch GmbH guarantees the entrepreneurial freedom of the Bosch Group, making it possible for the company to plan over the long term and to undertake significant up-front investments in the safeguarding of its future. Ninety-two percent of the share capital of Robert Bosch GmbH is held by Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, a charitable foundation. The majority of voting rights are held by Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG, an industrial trust. The entrepreneurial ownership functions are carried out by the trust. The remaining shares are held by the Bosch family and by Robert Bosch GmbH.

Additional information is available online at and,

PI8317 - October 04, 2013

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