Largest single investment in the history of ZAL: Laser Shock Peening technology makes innovative treatment of material surfaces possible

The ZAL Center for Applied Aeronautical Research is strengthening its position as one of the leading aviation industry innovation centers worldwide. On 10 October, in the presence of Hamburg’s First Mayor, Dr Peter Tschentscher, the infrastructure for Laser Shock Peening (LSP) was formally commissioned at the ZAL TechCenter. This ultramodern technology is used to treat structural components that are subject to particularly high stresses. It is significantly more efficient and environmentally friendly than conventional shot peening processes. In aviation, laser shock peening can be used, for example, to strengthen the frames of doors and cockpit windows. At 2.6 million Euros, the installation of the Laser Shock Peening facility is the largest single investment to date in the history of ZAL. This high-end infrastructure positions ZAL amongst the global leaders in this field of research.

The laser shock peening process, a high-intensity pulse of light is aimed at a foil placed behind a film of water, which is positioned on top of the material to be treated. The laser beam creates a high-pressure plasma at the point of impact, and the energy is discharged in an explosive manner. This explosive wave compresses the material at this point, thus hardening its structure. The same process can also be used to shape individual components.

The advantage of this process is that, compared to conventional surface treatment processes such as shot peening, LSP technology is significantly more precise and environmentally friendly, as it primarily uses light and water. The flexibility of LSP in terms of materials means that it is also suited to shaping larger surfaces. The technology has been in use in aviation since the 1990s, particularly by the US military.

The installation at the ZAL TechCenter makes laser shock peening available on a large scale in Europe for the first time. The main user of the new facility will be Airbus, who are renting 60 percent of the infrastructural capacity. The remaining capacity will be jointly marketed by ZAL GmbH and the US manufacturer, LSP Technologies, and is available as a test infrastructure for research partners, whether from the field of civil aviation or not.

The 2.6 million euro investment in the LSP facility is the largest single investment in the history of the ZAL TechCenter to date. Today’s commissioning of the facility also means that all hangar space in the building is now completely occupied with test equipment. More than 13.7 million euros have been invested in the hangar research facilities since the center was opened in 2016. This makes Hamburg’s ZAL Center for Applied Aeronautical Research one of the leading  innovation facilities in the aviation industry worldwide. Two years after opening, the 26,000-square-meter building is fully tenanted, housing more than 30 companies, research institutions, university facilities and startups.

Hamburg’s First Mayor, Dr Peter Tschentscher, commented, “The final assembly and delivery of one in every six airliners worldwide takes place in Hamburg. More than 40,000 highly qualified specialists are employed in the city’s civil aviation industry. ZAL is a beacon for civil aviation research. Industrial and scientific research come together here to be implemented in practical innovation. The success of ZAL is contributing to making Hamburg’s reputation in the fields of applied research and aviation even stronger.”

“With the inauguration of this laser shock peening technology, leading-edge research in Hamburg has reached yet another new level. This is also true in terms of the city’s international profile. The new facility is an example of successful transatlantic cooperation and the open innovation culture that underpins ZAL,” says Roland Gerhards, CEO of ZAL Center for Applied Aeronautical Research GmbH.