Using Laser Technology to Combat Wear

Steinbeis experts offer customized solutions for medium-sized enterprises

For around two decades, the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Laser Processing and Innovative Manufacturing Technology has been developing applications that use laser deposition welding and laser hardening to deliver wear protection. The team that developed the technology, spearheaded by Steinbeis Entrepreneur Professor Dr.-Ing. Roland Wahl from Pforzheim University and development engineer Tom Cruz, places emphasis on good communication to ensure clients – primarily small and medium-sized enterprises – always benefit from made-to-measure solutions.

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Roland Wahl, who teaches mechanical engineering and production technology at Pforzheim University, outlines the focus of his Steinbeis projects: “Our projects look at the use of laser technology to deliver wear protection; they’re about transferring know-how in the field of process and application technology into the specific areas of industrial application described to us by customers.” Adding to this, Tom Cruz says, “No-one knows components or tools better than the customers themselves. It’s often obvious in the very first meeting which tribological loads and types of wear are causing failures or leading to reduced operating lifespans.”

Based on this, the different parties work together on a wear protection concept. Sometimes this revolves around tried-and-tested processes and materials, or it involves new and innovative approaches tailored to the specific application. One crucial factor is that projects always mean getting to know parts used by customers more, finding out more about their experience with wear, and exploring their desire to improve the quality of components. To quickly zoom in the ideal solution, it’s also important that collaboration is uncomplicated and direct. “Our aim with every project is to transfer technology,” explain Roland Wahl and Tom Cruz, and that is something they have already achieved in numerous projects.

Laser deposition welding – from PET bottles to forging tools

It’s difficult to imagine, but the cutting blades on devices used to crush soft objects such as PET bottles wear extraordinarily quickly. This was the issue described by one customer that approached the Steinbeis experts from Pforzheim, and this problem was particularly bad when there were still sand residues in bottles. The solution was to use laser deposition welding to clad cutting blades with a tungsten mixture containing large grains of carbide. Another project involved farming tools, which were being worn down by a complex combination of surface shattering and abrasion. Again, the solution in this case was to use laser deposition welding to build on the existing method, which involved sintered carbide plates, and add extra layers of cladding.

The Steinbeis Transfer Center for Laser Processing and Innovative Manufacturing Technology has many years of extensive experience in adding wear protection to forging tools. Not only are such tools subject to high levels of abrasion and tribochemical stress, but they also encounter wide variations in thermal loads. This happens not only during the forging process, when tools are repeatedly immersed in red-hot materials, but also during the process immediately afterward, when the tools are quenched with cooling lubricants. A wear protection concept jointly developed with the customer showed that carefully armoring the tips of tools with a laser-welded, functional layer only two millimeters thick resulted in a 16-fold (!) increase in tool life compared to conventionally manufactured tools.

Laser hardening: Daimler and the Steinbeis Foundation Transfer Award – the Löhn Award

Together with Daimler (now Mercedes-Benz), in 2014 the team led by Steinbeis Entrepreneur Roland Wahl won the Steinbeis Foundation Transfer Award – the Löhn Award for their development and transfer project looking at the laser hardening of camtronic camshafts. The technological challenge was to laser-harden the complex and intricate cam pieces that go to make up a camshaft in thirteen different areas. This involved extremely disparate requirements and it was important that parts were not allowed to melt or become distorted, a phenomenon often encountered with conventional induction hardening. Hardening depths of 0.1 to 1 millimeter were required during development. This was made possible by coming up with a special dynamic temperature control concept that allowed components to be produced with hardening depths of 0.1 millimeter, even with extremely thin walls only 0.2 millimeters thick – without the undesirable effect of full hardening. The Steinbeis experts supported the project from fundamental testing through to serial production, also developing a laser hardening process that since conclusion of the project has been used in high-volume production for a number of years.

Further information and a video (German only) on the “Laser hardening of camtronic camshafts” project, which was awarded the 2014 Steinbeis Foundation Transfer Award – the Löhn Award:

Equipment used for laser deposition welding and laser hardening:

  • Laser systems delivering up to 6,000 watts of laser power
  • A variety of machining tools
  • A large number and variety of test rigs, also involving testing according to standards, among other things looking at abrasion wear, compressive strength, and bend resistance


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Roland Wahl (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Transfer Center Laser Processing and Innovative Manufacturing Technology (Pforzheim)

Tom Cruz (author)
Development Engineer
Laboratory for Laser Material Processing at Pforzheim University (Pforzheim)