Enhancing energy efficiency for sustainability and advancing
technology for space industry support

Nikon’s precision processing technologies can easily perform a variety of material processing with high precision using lasers for riblet processing, additive manufacturing, and subtractive processing. With a wide range of potential applications for these technologies, we also offer highly recognized measurement and inspection technologies such as laser radar, X-ray, and CT inspection systems to provide innovative solutions that realize the full value and potential of digital manufacturing.

Riblet processing

SolutionRiblets are said to reduce the frictional resistance of fluids

Riblet processing creates microscopic periodic grooves on the surface of a material to reduce frictional resistance when the material moves through water or air. Research into this technology began in the late 1970s by taking a hint from the riblet pattern found on sharkskin and has even been incorporated into swimwear.

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The surface of sharkskin is covered with microscopic scales invisible to the eye. Scientists believe it is the shape and arrangement of these scales in a riblet-like pattern that reduces the effect of turbulence, allowing sharks to swim with great speed and efficiency. Riblet processing can therefore be called a biomimetic technology as it mimics nature by creating a similar structure on the surface of man-made materials.

Nikon’s riblet-processing machines can handle a wide variety of materials, including metals, resins, and fiber-reinforced plastics. Equally important, they can create riblets on complex three-dimensional curved surfaces. No matter how complex the shape, we can create appropriate riblet patterns with the desired depth, width, and direction. Riblet processing has already been employed to improve the performance and fuel efficiency of racing sailboats and various aircraft. Its use is expected to be expanded to cargo aircraft in the future. The propulsive force of ships and aircraft is significantly impacted by the frictional resistance of their body surfaces in the water and air through which they travel, so the introduction of technology that effectively reduces it is increasingly attracting attention.

As a case study, one of the major airlines in Japan, ANA, has installed Nikon‘s unique riblet film on two ANA Green Jet specially painted airliners for testing, that started operation from October 5, 2022. This coating reduces air resistance and is expected to improve fuel efficiency by about 2%, for savings of approximately 8 billion Japanese yen, equivalent to USD 55 million (November 10, 2022 exchange rate). Improving fuel efficiency not only lowers costs, but also helps reduce CO2 emissions. The ANA Group has set an environmental target of “Net-zero CO2 emissions from aircraft operation by the 2050 fiscal year” and is expected to reduce such emissions by 300,000 tons annually. Now that realization of carbon neutrality has become an important social issue, riblet processing is attracting great interest as a key technology to achieve this.

Nikon is combining riblet-processing technology and mobility to make it available where it’s most needed. By incorporating a camera as the eyes and laser as the main tool in a mobile robot, it applies the laser accurately to the target position while capturing the object with the camera, generating riblets even over a huge structure such as a windmill’s blade. A camera and a laser can also be incorporated in a drone to operate riblet processing on a target situated high up. Autonomous control is possible by using the results supplemented by the eyes for pre-prediction and post-confirmation, and these are performed fully automatically. With these technologies, Nikon envisions a future when riblets can be applied to wind turbines that are constructed in harsh environments such as in the mountains or at offshore sites.

Case ExampleAn aviation test

Tokyo - Nikon Corporation (Nikon) is providing Nikon’s proprietary film treated by riblet processing, which contributes to improving aircraft fuel efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions. Nikon is pleased to announce that ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS CO., LTD. (ANA) decided to operate ANA Future Promise Prop, DHC8-Q400 aircraft domestic flights with Nikon’s riblet film attached on a trial basis. This is the second time that Nikon’s riblet film was adopted on ANA’s aircraft following two ANA Future Promise Jet, Boeing 787 aircraft that started operation on October 5, 2022.
The ANA Future Promise Prop, DHC8-Q400 aircraft was scheduled to commence operation from October 23, 2023. The riblet film is expected to reduce air resistance and improve fuel efficiency. With the DHC8-Q400 aircraft, it will be possible to evaluate durability and impact at low altitudes rather than the high altitudes of 10km or more of the ANA Future Promise Jet, Boeing 787 aircraft.

Sustainable Technology Inspired by Sharkskin

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Japan Airlines Co., Ltd. (hereinafter “JAL”), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (hereinafter “JAXA”), O-Well Corporation (hereinafter “O-Well”), and Nikon Corporation (hereinafter “Nikon”) have been aiming to reduce CO2 emissions by improving aircraft fuel efficiency since July 2022. The four companies are conducting flight tests using the world’s first* aircraft with riblets applied over the aircraft’s external paint. Although there have been usage examples such as processing riblets to decals and films and attaching them to the airframe, in this case, weight reduction and improved durability are expected as a result of applying riblets directly over the coating.

* In the operated aircraft as of February 28, 2023. According to JAL, JAXA, O-Well, and Nikon.

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Additive manufacturing

SolutionExpanding the possibilities of metal modeling through additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is the process of creating three-dimensional objects like parts based on design data. In contrast to traditional methods, which involve cutting, casting, or deforming materials, additive manufacturing allows for the creation of complex-shaped parts. Through combining these complex-shaped parts, it offers the advantage of enhancing strength while reducing weight.

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Although additive-manufacturing technology itself has existed since the 1970s, its use did not spread widely because of the high cost and low versatility of the 3D process. In recent years, however, technological innovations in additive manufacturing have made it possible to create molds with high precision, high speed, and low cost, and 3D printing is now used in the manufacture of a wide range of products, including engine parts, tools, and artificial joints for medical use.
In the future, growth is expected in an even broader range of fields such as aerospace, where heat resistance, durability, and corrosion resistance are required, and electric vehicles that are lightweight — extending their travel range.

Nikon’s metal 3D printer operates by using lasers to melt metal powder and build objects, benefiting from Nikon’s optical technology developed over 100 years. Moreover, the precision positioning expertise developed in semiconductor lithography equipment and image technology for monitoring phenomena occurring during laser processing can be harnessed.

This technology enhances durability through the repair and reuse of previously discarded parts, as well as for satellite-related components that require strength and precision. Nikon aims to contribute to solving societal challenges and provide new value to the future of manufacturing industries such as aerospace, energy, and automotive, all while addressing issues related to heat resistance and earthquakes.

Case ExampleProcessing example

  • Repair of existing parts

    Nikon’s metal 3D printer performs additive manufacturing using metal to repair damaged or worn parts. This section shows an actual example of additive manufacturing repair.

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  • Additive manufacturing on existing parts

    Nikon’s metal 3D printer can add different new shapes to existing parts by performing additive layer manufacturing. This section shows an actual example of additive layer manufacturing.

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  • Function-adding modeling

    Nikon’s metal 3D printer can apply a coating to a metal surface using a hard material (such as high-speed steel) to, for example, improve wear-resistance by forming metal Braille dot characters. This section shows such an example of manufacturing for the above purpose.

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Advanced Manufacturing Business Unit,
Next-Generation Project Division Official Website