Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC)


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 an important focus of the application work to be performed at the IfM.

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 fibre laser architecture allowing both broad and precise control of all key attributes (temporal pulse shape, spatial mode profile and polarisation) as needed to establish effective and efficient light:matter interactions which will deliver the most sophisticated laser manufacturing solution seen to date with the potential to revolutionise the way that lasers are used in industry in the future. We anticipate that order of magnitude improvements in laser processing energy efficiency should be possible by exploiting such concepts. Ultimately it could lead to laser systems auto-tuning beam parameters to a particular process, i.e. to produce 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. In order to help maximise the likelihood of impact we have brought SPI Lasers Ltd on board as a project partner to provide advise in terms of the industrial laser market, to give practical advise in terms of packaging and thermal management of fibre lasers, to assist in beam diagnostics, and to provide a local application lab test bed for early processing trials.

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 various medical/biological researcher end users as mentioned previously. The fibre laser research also has potential to impact other important areas of fundamental science and engineering.


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Lin, D. (2017) High energy, radially polarized picosecond laser pulses from a Yb-doped fiber MOPA in 2017 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO). Proceedings

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Zhang, Betty Meng (2017) Arbitrary picosecond pulse shaping in a radially polarized Yb-fiber MOPA beyond 10 W in 2017 16th International Conference on Optical Communications & Networks (Icocn 2017)

Description We have discovered in this project that it is possible to shape the optical field of laser light emitted from a fibre laser with exquisite precision to suit/optimise specific materials processing applications. For example we found that beams with ring shaped modes can be used to increase the rate of material removal during laser cutting and in conjunction with temporal pulse shaping to control the detailed dynamics of the light:matter interaction. Energy savings for laser cutting and polishing were demonstrated relative to conventional laser offering gaussian shaped output spatial modes and no-pulse shape control.
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 we have made the general industrial laser machining community aware of the concepts of spatio-temporal beam shaped fibre lasers and of the potential for low energy requirement materials processing.

We have just secured funding to take the spatial and temporal beam shaping concepts developed in this project more firmly into the field of medical imaging. Working with imaging experts and end users (including medical practitioners) we expect to prove the merits of the laser technology we have developed into the healthcare arena (see funding section of this report for further details).
Sectors Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Results from this project helped demonstrate to the high power laser community that accurate control of the spatial mode in active fibre devices, such as amplifiers and lasers, is possible and has generated increased interest in investigating the use of different spatial modes, including ring modes, in industrial materials processing applications and to some extent in medical imaging also. A follow-on project on medical imaging has been secured based in part on the results from this project (as detailed in the funding section of this report). The University of Southampton spin out company, SPI Lasers Ltd (now owned by Trumpf Ltd and a partner on this project) has recently launched a beam-shaped fibre laser system capable of generating ring-shaped modes on demand. Energy efficiency savings of 25% have been achieved using ring-mode operation (relative to the conventional Gaussian mode approach) along with improved cutting quality.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Description Lighting the way to a healthy nation - optical 'X-rays' for walk through diagnosis & therapy
Amount £5,446,592 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/T020997/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2020 
End 05/2025
Description Collaboration UCL Medical Department 
Organisation University College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Development of a laser for photoacoustic medical imaging.
Collaborator Contribution Demonstration of photoacoustic medical imaging using a fibre laser.
Impact Publishable research results still being collected.
Start Year 2011
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 Collaboration with Fujikura Ltd on multicore doped optical fibres 
Organisation Fujikura
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The development of rare earth doped multicore fibres and associated beam combined fibre laser demonstrations.
Collaborator Contribution Supply of high concentration ytterbium doped preforms with excellent length homogeneity.
Impact High profile academic papers anticipated.
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration with Nanyang Technical University (Singapore) on fibre fabrication 
Organisation Nanyang Technological University
Country Singapore 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Laser and amplifier development work - in particular thulium doped fibre amplifier and laser studies, testing of large mode area ytterbium doped fibres and associated laser development, hollow core fibre studies.
Collaborator Contribution Fabrication of various bespoke fibres including thulium doped fibres of varying designs and compositions, large mode area high concentration ytterbium doped fibres and various hollow core fibres. Provision of two visiting PhD students ( two x 2 years stay at Southampton).
Impact Various high profile papers as listed in the individual supporting grants
Start Year 2014
Description Collaboration with the Institute for Life Sciences (University of Southampton - Prof. Sumeet Mahajan) in the area of multimodal medical imaging using fibre lasers 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Institute for Life Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Development of optical fibres and fibre laser sources for biomedical imaging, supervision of a joint PhD student (funded 50:50 by the Optoelectronics Research Centre/Institute for Life Sciences)
Collaborator Contribution Lab access, imaging experiments on biological/phantom structures, data interpretation and design of experiments/target setting, joint PhD supervision).
Impact Academic papers in press. The collaboration is strongly multidisciplinary (Photonics/Life Sciences).
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