Industry-Academia Collaboration Helps Towards Accreditation of Laser Wire Stripping Process for Aerospace Industries
Business: Spectrum Technologies Ltd.
Expertise: Advanced Materials Technology
Academic Partner: Swansea University
Spectrum Technologies Ltd. is a global market leader in the design and manufacture of advanced industrial laser systems, undertaking the design and manufacture of all of its products from the headquarters in Bridgend, Wales.
Hi-tech industries in aerospace, defence, rail, automotive, telecoms, electronics and life science sectors use Spectrum products to provide advanced manufacturing solutions in the processing of wires with unparalleled precision and efficiency compared to conventional mechanical methods.
ASTUTE 2020 has been working with Spectrum to prove and demonstrate that the process of laser wire stripping has no detrimental effect on the electrical and physical properties of the wire or cables used in the aerospace industry.
The need to minimise weight on aircraft has driven the development of thin wall insulated wires; and the introduction of lighter, higher performance electrical interconnect systems. Traditional mechanical methods of stripping the insulation requires a number of different tools to suit particular wires. With a mechanical process, there is always a risk of damage to the conductor which is strictly forbidden in the industry.
The use of laser technology for stripping wires and cables is commonly used in the electronics and medical sectors especially in niche applications where mechanical methods fail. The biggest advantage of using specific lasers and parameters for stripping is that due to the metallic conductor the laser beam simply reflects from it causing no damage.
The challenge within aerospace is that any wire stripping device has to be approved for use with the Original Equipment Manufacturers following their stringent rules.
ASTUTE 2020's research expertise in advanced materials aimed to address the technical challenges of the laser processing conditions for a defect-free stripping process.
Figure 1: Electron microscope images of wires after laser cutting insulation, showing that no damage is seen on the conductor.
The ASTUTE 2020 team worked closely with Spectrum to investigate the conditions under which the electrical wires could be laser stripped without causing damage to the conductors.
Figure 2: Examples of common aerospace specification wire and cables after laser stripping at the optimised parameters found by analysis
Optical microscopes, electron microscopes and X-ray techniques characterised and analysed the laser wire stripping performance to optimise energy use, increase speed and reduce defects. Quantitative elemental analysis determined contamination and residue and ways to minimise them.
The cutting performance was affected by several factors: cutting speed, laser power, insulation materials type and thickness.
The results were shared with the company to validate performance and optimise their laser wire stripping tools as per the requirements of the aerospace industry.
The ASTUTE 2020 collaborative project has demonstrated that the laser wire stripping process does not alter (or even mark) the surface of the conducting metallic wire or cable. The impact of the laser on different insulation materials was analysed to minimise residues and reduce post-process cleaning.
The testing and optimisation of the laser wire stripping parameters have allowed a finer tuning of the product for use in hi-tech and aerospace industries where the stripping of wires in miniaturised electronics without damaging them is becoming an increasing challenge.
Spectrum and ASTUTE 2020 have worked together to enable the company to proceed with acquiring a route to certification of the laser wire stripping for the aerospace industry supply chain which was previously inaccessible.
The collaborative project has given the company confidence in their updated laser cutting system and they have recently secured a large order from Boeing. As a direct result, four new jobs have been created at the Welsh Headquarters and several jobs have been safeguarded through the new contracts and OEM accreditation. With Spectrum introducing new to the firm and market products/ processes, there is an opportunity for the company to pursue accreditation in new markets and supply chains to optimise and improve the laser wire cutting parameters.
“As the experimental results showed it is possible to laser strip without causing damage to the conductors; this is the key to open the route for accreditation with aerospace.
This collaboration has given us the confidence that laser stripping in aerospace is achievable. The order with Boeing has protected jobs, and we expect in early 2021 the acceptance of the technology including Boeing accreditation. We will further progress our talks with AIRBUS to obtain their approval in 2021.”
- Jonathan Davies
R&D Manager, Spectrum Technologies Ltd.
“This R&D collaboration aims to improve stripping quality of electrical wires. This will result in business growth and expansion and assist with international competitiveness.”
- Dr Fawzi Belblidia
Technical Director, ASTUTE 2020