Research on the theory and key technology of laser processing and system optimisation for low carbon manufacturing (LASER-BEAMS)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Mechanical Aerospace and Civil Eng


Laser based processing technologies have great potential to bring new innovations to manufacturing while at the same time disrupting traditional energy and carbon intensive processes. Lasers enable selective processing and unique but complex material energy beam interactions. However, there is currently a limited understanding of the energy intensity and carbon emissions associated with the use of lasers in manufacturing. New knowledge, understanding, process models and resource metrics, and industry case studies are urgently needed to optimise laser materials processing technologies for low carbon manufacturing. This project brings together leading groups from Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) and Chongqing University (CQU) in China, and The University of Manchester and Loughborough University in the UK, to co-create the scientific base and technologies for low carbon manufacturing with lasers. The proposal has a focus on laser cleaning and welding reflecting areas that are distinctive in the UK and China and have the greatest potential for bringing new innovations to growing areas of industry as well as greater potential for impact on low carbon manufacturing.

Planned Impact

The vision of this research is to become internationally leading in technologies for low carbon manufacturing with lasers and to consolidate the dominant international position for Manchester in laser cleaning and HUST in welding.

Successful delivery of this project will:
(i) bring new laser cleaning and laser welding innovations to high value manufacturing in both the UK and China. The project is supported by three key industrial partners, providing pathways to impact for the research.
(ii) demonstrate to industry and the world that low carbon manufacturing methodologies can be used to transform manufacturing while also bringing in new novel innovations to laser manufacturing processes,
(iii) develop the first data sets, energy and production rate process windows for all laser material processing technologies, and (iiii) support industry in bringing new innovations to automotive and high value manufacturing, using resource efficiency as a competitive and environmental advantage.

This research fits with and complements other major research activities in the area including the UK Future Photonics Hub which provides manufacturing for the next-generation of photonics technologies and the Future Manufacturing Hub in Manufacture using Advanced Powder Processes, which includes powder-based manufacturing technologies. The project will complement the Manchester based £230 million Henry Royce Institute which is a UK national centre for research and innovation of advanced materials as well as exploit its state-of-the-art research facilities.

The project will deliver a transformative low carbon manufacturing system optimisation approach to key technologies for manufacturing in the future and in a digital age.


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Description The project is on-going and the full impact is to be realized.

An early impact has been the development of a joint framework for energy analysis of laser machine tools and processing. This will enable comparison between lasers systems and benchmarking laser processing to other manufacturing processes. This is a key metric for evaluating the total energy requirements for laser processing and is important for Scope 2 emissions.

So far we have developed the manufacturing capability for selective removal of hard coatings from cutting tools by lasers while preserving the surface integrity (quality) . This will enable re-use of cutting tools in a circular economy.
Exploitation Route Applicable for removal of other coatings or industrial uptake.

Framework can be used on other machine systems
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Environmental Sustainability Away Day and the Manchester 2038 zero carbon target 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This was an away day for Department Heads of Environmental Sustainability to consider the Manchester 2018 zero carbon challenge and environmental sustainability. The presentation was on energy demand for equipment and the key considerations that influence energy use profile and hence scope 2 emisssions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Laser Annealing of Thin-film Photovoltaics - approach to low carbon processing of PV 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact "Laser Annealing of Thin-film Photovoltaics"
It seems counter intuitive that the manufacture of photovoltaic panels can be so energy intense, that they need to be installed for a number of years before they generate net energy: A technology, which promises to form part of a bright renewable energy future, holds a dark secret.
CdTe-based thin film solar cells currently represent one of the fastest growing PV technologies. However, the current post-deposition annealing treatment is an energy intensive step of the manufacturing process leading to energy payback times of the order of 2-3 years. Substituting the hot CdCl annealing process for one that utilises flash annealing via laser promises to deliver significant improvements not just in terms of energy, but also product design and manufacturability.
This talk will consider the benefits of laser annealing for thin film processing and describe the use of holographic optical elements (HOEs) for laser beam heat flow control. These HOEs have been designed using COMSOL to create simulations of various laser beam profiles that demonstrate the benefit of laser beam shaping for thin film annealing processes. I will discuss how heat transfer simulations were used to predict the effects of different laser irradiance profiles on the annealing process thermal cycle to influence the experimental design and predict optimal laser irradiance profiles. Specifically I will describe variations in power and process speed on as-deposited and MgCl2-treated close-space sublimated (CSS) CdTe samples.
In terms of the manufacturing industry, the implications of laser annealing in PV production will be considered and how this research will now extend to more broadly consider low carbon laser processing as part of a major new UK-China project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019