Taking their ideas from defence mechanisms found in plants such as the Lotus leaf, the ‘High Throughput Laser Texturing of Self-Cleaning and Antibacterial Surfaces’, or ‘TresClean’ project, has made a breakthrough that will enable the production of self-cleaning sheet metal on an industrial scale for the first time.
TresClean has used high-power laser cutting devices to create microscopic ‘spikes’ and ‘ridges’ in sheet metal, causing liquids to ‘bounce off’ the rough micro-topography that mimics the surface of the Lotus leaf.
This roughened surface creates miniature pockets of air that minimises the contact area between the surface and a liquid, almost like standing on a bed of needles.
This new technique will initially be used to create antibacterial surfaces for use in the food production industry – dramatically increasing productivity and reducing costs in factories which process biological food products such as milk, tomato sauce, and yoghurt.
Laser textured surfaces
While this replicating approach may currently exist for specific and expensive plastic components, it is a first for self-cleaning metal.
Metal surfaces are textured using innovative industrial photonics devices: high-average power ultrashort-pulsed lasers are used in combination with high-performance scanning heads by utilising an innovative beam delivery method enabling movements of up to 200 m/s.
TresClean can achieve this surface texturation quickly by cutting areas of 500 square cm in less than 30 minutes. In early 2015 production methods could make laser-etched metal at a rate of 1 square inch in 1 hour, whereas TresClean can produce 1000 square cm in the same period of time, making this technology 156 times quicker than before.
Researchers are initially aiming its product at machine parts for the food industry TresClean hopes to make a significant impact on productivity.
Coordinated by the UNIVERSITÁ DEGLI STUDI DI PARMA, the consortium includes members from Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the UK and has received a grant of €3,363,091.25 from the Photonics Public Private Partnership under the H2020 Industrial Leadership funding calls.