How it Works

It’s a complex topic, but our job at FLITE is to take out the complexity and present it to you so that you can imagine the benefits for your enterprise. In fact, it’s our business to scout new technology around the world and bring it into our catalog of capabilities, so that you can benefit from the best-fit method that modern science has to offer. 

Why does this matter? 

Industry has tried to protect what we build with oils, paints and coatings of all kinds, and inevitably, they fail, scattering their residue in the air and water, and leaving our trusted machines and structures vulnerable. Using this new surface science we will try to protect our industrial surfaces by copying nature instead of trying – and failing – to fight against it. 

A gentle introduction to laser surface functionalization

The texture of a surface will dictate how gases and liquids rest against, or flow over the surface. We spend most of our time talking about superhydrophobic surfaces that repel water-based liquids with very little effort.

You might imagine that the smoother a surface, the more easily liquid will flow along it, and that’s true to a certain extent. When we look at the surface of a lotus leaf, we see something that appears and feels smooth, but water seems to bounce off it almost magically – the leaf’s surface is dry and clean instantly after being splashed or immersed. Under a microscope, the lotus leaf isn’t smooth at all – it’s actually composed of an array of sharp spikes that don’t allow water droplets to dwell on them. Falling water droplets will bounce off that kind of texture energetically instead of a familiar splattering effect.

This kind of surface effect will prevent water from dwelling on one spot, as the slightest motion, vibration or tilt will get rid of the water. In the real world, this translates to a surface that stays dry, leading to less rust; a surface that prevents ice from forming on it (or formed ice does not stick firmly); or a surface that cleans itself, so that water droplets carry away any dust, ash, or other debris as they go along. There are also benefits to explore with friction, removing heat from a surface, or preventing bacterial colonies from forming.

Bouncing water droplet
Click to see water bouncing off the surface of treated metal with just a few degrees’ tilt. Image belongs to the University of Rochester Institute of Optics.

FLITE creates these functional textures is based on the patented method referred to as laser-induced periodic surface structures (“LIPSS”). A low-power but very high speed series of laser pulses (a quadrillion every second!) is applied to metal, glass, plastic, ceramics, composites or other solid materials. Instead of cutting or burning the surface like a continuous laser beam, the energy is transferred to the surface to sculpt the microscopic effects we’re after. The process is 100% green, permanent, and relatively durable. 

The bottom line; If FLITE can use these kinds of texture on the surface of familiar products to prevent rust, ice or fouling, we might be able to give them longer life without having to paint them with toxic chemical coatings. In some cases, we can enhance the coatings as well. 

Other surface textures we can apply include;

  • hydrophilicity (the ability to wick or attract water, which has a catalog of very interesting uses)
  • oleophobicity (the ability to repel or inhibit oily substances, like grease, cooking oils, jet fuel, and other contaminants)
  • oleophilicity (the ability to wick or attract oils, which has interesting applications when we want a protective grease to stay on its surface)
  • color change (while you might think this is a complicated or expensive way to make green metal, we can make a permanent color change without the weight and burden of paints, which solves some interesting problems in optics, aviation and more).
  • Riblets and other exotic shapes that reduce drag in air and water
  • Microscopic needles that can kill bacteria and other pathogens on contact without toxicity

Wikipedia has a great article on the subject but it’s somewhat technical; contact us and we can share examples of all kinds from our own library.