Laser system prevents contamination on aircraft surfaces

November 9, 2018, CORDIS
Laser system prevents contamination on aircraft surfaces
Credit: Wararat Sukharom, Shutterstock

Scientists have developed a laser material processing method to produce textured surfaces that repel dirt and water. This technology will primarily be used in the aerospace industry.

The use of coatings that mimic the lotus plant, whose leaves have self-cleaning properties, is becoming more common in a broad range of applications, from industry to medicine. When water falls on these leaves, it forms beads that roll off, taking dust and dirt with them thanks to the complex microscopic and nanoscopic structure of the surface. Supported by the EU-funded LASER4FUN project, a team of researchers has devised a method inspired by the using lasers to etch filigree patterns directly into metal surfaces.

Summarising the process in a by the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS, Dr Tim Kunze said: "With our process, we want to prevent any form of contamination on aircraft surfaces." He added, however, that "it would also be a success if we could at least reduce it considerably."

Lotus effect

The same press release notes that the engineers have used a direct laser interference patterning (DLIP) technique. This involves the use of special optics to split a single laser beam into several partial beams that recombine on the metal surface to be structured. It creates precise and controllable light patterns. "If the interference pattern is focused onto a titanium sheet, the high-energy laser light melts and ablates the material in the bright areas, while it leaves the material unaffected in the dark areas."

The team observed that these patterns resemble halls of pillars or corrugated iron roofs. "The distances between the pillars can be set between 150 nanometers (millionths of a millimeter) and 30 micrometers (thousandths of a millimeter)." This creates a surface on which water droplets cannot find enough grip. As a result, they roll or slide off, instead of spreading out to form a film, similar to the lotus effect observed in nature.

Such water-repellent or superhydrophobic surfaces are also produced by other technologies, as explained in the press release. "Today, most lotus-like coatings on metal sheets, glasses or bathroom fittings are still produced by special processes. The main advantage of these coating methods is that they allow treating large areas. However, the coatings age over time, can easily be damaged and do partly not comply with new EU environmental regulations coming into force." The scientists emphasise that the structures produced by the DLIP method may well last years without raising environmental concerns.

In addition to flight testing laser-structured coatings on an aircraft wing, the team is also looking into other applications for its lotus-like nanostructures. The researchers suggest that the technology could be utilised to guard against counterfeiting or to improve the biocompatibility of surgical implants, such as those used in dentistry.

The ongoing LASER4FUN (European Esrs Network On Short Pulsed Laser Micro/Nanostructuring Of Surfaces) project aims to "structure surfaces embedding properties for industrial applications," according to CORDIS. It focuses on the "interaction of energy with several materials (metals, semiconductors, polymers, glasses and advanced materials) and on new functionalities like tribology, aesthetics and wettability." Another objective of the project is to create an international training network for early-stage researchers in the field of metal processing.

Explore further: Self cleaning Lotus leaf imitated in plastic by using a femtosecond laser

More information: LASER4FUN project website:

Related Stories

Transparent coatings for everyday applications

November 20, 2017

Water- and dirt-repellent sportswear and outdoor clothing, or anti-fog windshields – there are many everyday products that can profit from highly hydrophobic coatings. For such coatings, researchers led by Dr. Bastian E. ...

New material makes water and oil roll off

November 28, 2014

Car finish, to which no dirt particles adhere, house fronts, from which graffiti paints roll off, and shoes that remain clean on muddy paths – the material "fluoropore" might make all this possible. Both water and oil droplets ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.