We are propelling cutting-edge research into laser technologies and applications in the field of manufacturing, with the goal of cutting costs while increasing reliability, accuracy and precision.
Since its first demonstration in 1960, the laser has become an integral part of society. From functioning as a simple light source to cutting through the planet’s toughest materials, lasers have a multitude of applications.
Professor Duncan Hand, Director of the £5.6M Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes, has spent his career researching these high-power laser applications in the field of manufacturing.
He is currently investigating methods of directly welding optical materials (e.g. glass) to structural materials (e.g. metals) using an ultra-short pulsed laser. The research involves the development of laser scanning strategies, testing of different laser parameters and testing of manufactured parts.
“This area of research is important as there exists a wide range of applications where it is necessary to bond optical and structural materials,” he explains. “One example is in the construction of laser systems where optics need to be very accurately aligned and then bonded in place. Currently, adhesives are used; however, these have a range of problems from contamination of optical surfaces to lifetime issues.”
Professor Hand would like to see this strand of research enable lasers to be manufactured with lower cost and higher reliability. “This should then have a knock-on effect for the applications of these lasers,” he enthuses.
To achieve this goal, his team are now focused on increasing the yield of their activities by making the process more reliable. As such, his team is starting a joint project with Oxford Lasers and other industrial partners to start developing their process into a commercial reality.
Professor Hand is also engaged in another project using a high-power laser process to create surfaces with a tailored friction coefficient for use in large scale machinery activities. His team has been investigating different laser parameters and scanning strategies to provide the required level of friction while achieving a greater reliability and control than the currently used process of plasma spraying.
An example where this application is useful is in providing mechanical coupling between parts in large marine engines such as container ships.
“The surfaces in question are required to have a friction coefficient within a specified range. In normal operations, the two surfaces should be locked together by friction,” says Hand. “However, if a fault occurs that results in an extremely large torque being applied, the surfaces should slip, thus preventing damage to other parts of the engine.”
So far, the team has shown it is possible to provide the level of friction required to within 20 per cent. They have also received additional funding from the EU to increase the precision of the process to within 10 per cent.
“The results to date have been sufficiently successful that the large marine engine producer MAN Diesel & Turbo are working with us to develop the technology into a real production process,” he concludes.