Researchers at the National Robotarium, hosted by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, have secured £586,000 to develop made-to-measure 3D laser beams whose shape can be changed. The funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, will support the research and development of the lasers for industry application.
Lasers are a crucial component of modern manufacturing, widely used by many industries to produce precise incisions and mould materials into specific shapes. This approach to laser-based manufacturing depends on melting or vaporising the material, which means the laser’s energy must be focused on the right points. The standard laser beam shape makes it difficult to tailor this for specific manufacturing processes, decreasing efficiency and limiting what can be made.
The research to be undertaken at the National Robotarium will develop laser beams that have been specifically designed to meet the exact manufacturing requirements of products, improving efficiency and precision. The new technique could be harnessed to improve how holes for sensors and cameras on smartphone screens are drilled and to increase the density of information on semiconductor chips, helping to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for more memory in devices.
Dr Richard Carter, Assistant Professor of Applied Optics and Photonics at Heriot-Watt University and the project’s lead said: “Manufacturing is of key strategic importance to the UK, with a particular focus on high-tech and high-value manufacturing. This research will address the priority area of digital manufacturing, enabling a bespoke, rapid response capability for the first time. The new methods we are developing represent a paradigm shift in the capabilities of laser-based manufacturing, making it possible to move between 3D beam shapes with zero down-time, low cost and minimal technical know-how.
“Through collaboration with our industry partners, we’ll be able to develop the lasers in line with what industry needs, providing solutions to manufacturing challenges across a wide range of sectors. However, this technology could also support research in quantum technology, waveguide physics and the bio-sciences – anywhere where light must be controlled and manipulated”.
Medical applications could include cancer surgery, where it is hoped more precise medical instruments could allow the resection of tumours without removing healthy surrounding tissue. Other examples include fabricating waveguide devices to support telecommunications and the internet, microscopy and even astronomic telescopes.
In an academic partnership relating to medical applications, the project’s research will be supported by Professor David Jayne at the University of Leeds. Elsewhere, the National Robotarium’s researchers will work with three industrial partners throughout the project, including PowerPhotonic, Oxford Lasers and the G&H Group, who will also support testing in real-life industrial settings.
UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: “This is cutting-edge technology in every sense of the phrase. These 3D lasers are set to unlock previously unheard-of levels of precision and so transform our manufacturing and medical technology industries, boosting the UK’s global reputation for innovation and attracting jobs and further investment”.
You can find more information about the National Robotarium and its made-to-measure 3D laser beams on its website.
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