SPATIO-TEMPORAL BEAM TAILORED FIBRE LASERS FOR ENERGY RESILIENT MANUFACTURING

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Optoelectronics Research Centre

Abstract

This innovative proposal seeks a ten-fold improvement in the energy efficiency and speed of laser based manufacturing. Exploiting the most recent advances in optical fibre communication technology we will develop a new generation of fibre lasers offering unprecedented levels of simultaneous control of the spatial, temporal and polarisation properties of the output beam. This will allow machinists to optimise the laser for particular light:matter interactions and to maximise the efficiency of each pulse in laser-based materials processing for the first time, enabling a step-change in manufacturing control and novel low-energy manufacturing processes.

We believe that order of magnitide reductions in energy usage should be possible for many laser processes relative to the current generation of fibre lasers used in manufacturing today, (which themselves are already at least x2 more efficient than other diode-pumped solid-state lasers, and more than x10 more efficient than other laser technologies still in use in laser machine shops (e.g. flash-lamp pumped YAGs)). Importantly, the new control functionalities enabled should also allow laser based techniques to replace highly energy-inefficient mechanical processes currently used for certain high value manufacturing tasks and in particular in ultrafine polishing which will represent the primary focus of the application work that we will undertake in collaboration with our project partners at Cambridge University.

Lasers offering such exquiste control of the beam parameters at high peak and average powers, have the potential to be disruptive in a number of application spaces beyond industrial laser processing - in particular in sensing, imaging, medicine, defence and high energy physics and we will look to investigate opportunities to exploit our technology in these areas as the project evolves.

Planned Impact

The provision of a single MOPA fiber laser architecture allowing both broad and precise control of all key attributes (temporal pulse shape, spatial mode profile and polarization) as needed to establish effetive and efficient light:matter interactions will deliver to the industry the most sophisticated laser manufacturing solution seen to date and could revolutionize the way that lasers are used in industry. We anticipate that order of magnitude improvements in laser processing efficiency should be possible by exploiting such concepts. Ultimately it could lead to laser systems auto-tuning beam parameter to a particular process, laser systems with intelligence. This concept is breath-taking in its potential for delivering quantum leaps in manufacturing capability.

On the basis of the latest annual fibre laser sales and growth figures (and making a few bold but not unreasonable assumptions regarding laser usage and industrial uptake) we estimate that if successful we might ultimately save as much as 1-10 TWhrs of electricity per annum simply by replacing all future fibre laser sales with ERM-fibre lasers. Even greater energy savings should be possible if various mechanical processes can be replaced by laser based techniques by virtue of the new capabilities we develop.

The laser technology developed within the project should also be applicable to a range of other applications and we are already discussing aspects of potential interest with medical/biological researchers including Professor Paul Beard and Dr Ben Cox at the University College London on photoacoustic biomedical imaging (with who we have an existing EPSRC project - EPEP/J021970), Dr Holger Gerhard at Cancer Research UK on multi-photon imaging, and Dr Tom Lister at Oddstock Hospital on the use of lasers for treatment of various skin conditions. The fibre laser research also has potential to impact other important areas of fundamental science and engineering. For example, nanosecond pulsed fibre lasers are used as precision seed sources to drive the high power laser systems being used to investigate laser driven fusion.
 
Description Within this project we have demonstrated that it is possible to generate laser beams with complex structure in both time and space and that both the temporal characteristics and spatial mode characteristics can be controlled and used to optimise the interaction of light with matter - for example to improve the energy efficiency of industrial materials processing. In particular we have shown the benefits of using shaped pulses (in the nanosecond regime) for machining silicon and other materials, and the benefits of using radially and azimuthally polarised spatial modes in machining various materials. We have developed fibre laser systems that offer temporal and spatial shaping in a practical fashion and have developed portable prototypes that have been used in joint material processing experiments with the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge.
Exploitation Route We are in frequent dialogue with local laser companies and this provides the most likely route to commercial exploitation. By working with end users at Cambridge and producing joint publications we expect the general industrial laser machining community will become aware of the results and of the potential for low energy requirement materials processing.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

 
Description EPSRC Energr Resilient Manufacturing 2
Amount £799,402 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P012248/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 09/2019
 
Description Collaboration on industrial materials processing with Cambridge University 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Institute for Manufacturing
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provision of a spatio-temporal pulsed laser for testing light matter interactions and ultimately for laser materials processing trials.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of an stroboscopic imaging system to measure the interaction of a single pulse with a material surface. Expertise on laser processing opportunities and access to associated characterisation technology/end users.
Impact Initial experiments still in train.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Development of an LCOS spatial mode shaper 
Organisation University of Queensland
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Specification of mode-shaper requirements, provision of parts, laser tests incorporating spatial mode shaper device.
Collaborator Contribution Development and build of modeshaper, support of use of device in laser/material processing experiments.
Impact Build of mode-shaper unit still in train.
Start Year 2015