The Steinbeis Foundation's Transfer Award | The Löhn Award 2019

A New Generation of Electrical Contacts – Optimum Performance Thanks to High-Speed Laser Structuring

As nature already knows, all surfaces are structured geometrically on a variety of different scales and thanks to evolution, they are perfectly matched to perform the required function. Until now, technical surfaces have been expressed in terms of roughness, which highlights how many opportunities must have been overlooked over the years.

Enter Material Engineering Center Saarland (MECS), the Steinbeis Research Center, which has developed an innovative laser-based structuring method for quickly and efficiently treating almost any kind of surface. After many years of collaboration with TE Connectivity Germany, a global market leader in the field of electrical connectivity, the center’s approach has proven to be a disruptive innovation. How did the partnership come into existence? The number and complexity of onboard electronic systems contained in modern cars is intensifying, such that the average vehicle is now fitted with more than 2,500 electrical contacts, through over 250 connectors. The current visions of future car functions, such as those required for autonomous driving, are posing more and more challenges to industry. Of crucial importance in this respect are factors such as low contact resistance and the need to minimize the required insertion force of the increasing number of connectors found in cars.

A patented technique called direct laser interference patterning (DLIP) makes it possible to significantly improve the contact properties of electrical connectors and thus manage increasing levels of electrification in cars. The long-standing partnership between the Steinbeis Research Center Material Engineering Center Saarland and TE Connectivity is an ideal example of successful transfer – from initial, fundamental work carried out in the laboratory to optimizations made to specific products, and the construction of a pilot plant used in the high-speed laser structuring of electrical connectors suitable for use in serial production in industry. This successful example of project collaboration has earned both parties involved in the partnership the Steinbeis Foundation Transfer Award – the Löhn Award.

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