Reducing lead times by 90 per cent thanks to integrated laser hardening

The classic production procedure for hardened precision components entails accuracy risks and means a longer lead time. The challenge thus lies in hardening at the processing centre, so that all of the phases can occur within one single machining and clamping. Laser hardening offers a solution.

Hardened precision components are usually produced in three phases: pre-processing in unhardened condition, hardening in batches and then post-processing in hardened condition. Hardening leads to major precision risks – since components must be retrieved from the clamp – and to an increased lead time – due to the logistics of to and from the hardening facility, after which the pieces must again be aligned and clamped.  One alternative is hardening at the processing centre, so that all of the phases can occur within a single machining and clamping, but this also constitutes a real challenge.  Laser hardening offers a solution.

A feasibility study was conducted at KU Leuven on integrated laser hardening: a fibre laser was integrated into a five-phase milling centre using a specially designed laser head. The initial results on C45 and Orvar reveal the major potential of the technology. Eliminating the logistics, waiting time, clamping and alignment operations could reduce the lead time of precision components by 90 per cent.