The SLE process is characterized by high energy efficiency (melting instead of vaporizing), high material efficiency (kerfs of just a few μm), great precision in three dimensions (1 μm focus, no deposits). Furthermore, it can be scaled up to high speed by means of laser beam sources with high pulse repetition rates. These properties have been achieved for the first time at the Fraunhofer ILT in cooperation with the Chair for Laser Technology LLT at RWTH Aachen University. Thanks to the current development of rapid deflection systems, individual microstructured parts of glass and sapphire can be produced at costs only obtainable today with masking techniques or molding processes for identical plastic parts manufactured in large series.
SLE can be implemented in the industry because it can be scaled up to cycle times of just a few seconds. In the medium term, this process will be able to produce low-cost glass and sapphire parts that will be more resistant than present plastic parts and easier to clean and sterilize. In the long term, SLE can also exploit the enormous potential for individualized mass production because it does not require expensive masks or molding tools, meaning that no part-specific fixed costs are incurred. Parts can be generated within seconds directly from the software (CAD data); see Figure 3,4. As a result, the SLE process makes it possible to manufacture prototypes as well as parts in small and large series whose process parameters can be transferred to others, and to produce customized mechanical microsystems with completely new functional properties, all at cost and time savings. Furthermore, SLE has the advantage of unrestricted geometrical freedom and takes series-identical functional characteristics into account for transparent parts.