ENERGY RESILIENT MANUFACTURING 2: SPATIO-TEMPORAL BEAM TAILORED FIBRE LASERS FOR ENERGY RESILIENT MANUFACTURING

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

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 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.

Publications

10 25 50
 
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 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