Researchers at the National Robotarium have secured £586,000 to develop 3D laser beams capable of changing shape.
The study conducted by the centre is set to transform the manufacturing and healthcare technology industries, researchers said, making it easier to produce products that require precise manufacturing, such as medical equipment and mobile devices.
Commenting on the funding, Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said: “I’m very pleased to hear this cutting-edge research will be carried out at the National Robotarium, which is funded through the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, and that it will have a direct impact on our world leading manufacturing industries.”
The funding award, secured from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will support the research and development of the lasers for industry application, accelerating the commercialisation of the technology.
According to industry research, the global laser processing market projected to grow from £2.8 billion in 2020 to £4.1 billion by 2025.
Lasers are a crucial component of modern manufacturing and are used to produce precise incisions and mould materials into specific shapes. However, this approach to laser-based manufacturing depends on melting or vaporising the material, which means the laser’s energy must be focussed on the right points.
Researchers says the standard laser beam shape makes it difficult to tailor this for specific manufacturing processes, decreasing efficiency and limiting what can be made.
The upcoming National Robotarium project aims to develop laser beams which have been specifically designed to meet the exact manufacturing requirements of products, improving efficiency and precision.
Dr Richard Carter, project lead and assistant professor of applied optics and photonics at Heriot-Watt University, 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.”
Long-term, these new techniques 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.
Medical applications could also include cancer surgery, where it is hoped more precise medical instruments could allow the resection of tumours without removing healthy surrounding tissue.
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In an academic partnership, the project’s research into this kind of medical application will be supported by Professor David Jayne at the University of Leeds.
Similarly, researchers at the Robotarium will also work closely with industry partners, which include PowerPhotonic, Oxford Lasers and the G&H Group/
Dr Carter added: “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.”