Smart Fibre Optics High-Power Photonics (HiPPo)

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


Standard multi-kW fibre lasers are now considered 'commodity' routinely produced by multiple manufacturers worldwide and are widely used in the most advanced production lines for cutting, welding, 3D printing and marking a myriad of materials from glass to steel. The ability to precisely control the properties of the output laser beam and to focus it on the workpiece makes high-power fibre lasers (HPFLs) indispensable to transform manufacturing through adaptable digital technologies. As we enter the Digital Manufacturing/Industry 4.0 era, new challenges and opportunities for HPFLs are emerging. Modern product life-cycles have never been shorter, requiring increased manufacturing flexibility. With disruptive technologies like additive manufacturing moving into the mainstream, and traditional subtractive techniques requiring new degrees of freedom and accuracy, we expect to move away from fixed, 'fit-for-all' beams to 'on-the-flight' dynamically reconfigurable 'shaped light' with extensive range of beam shapes, shape frequency and sequencing, as well as 3D focus steering. It is also conceivable that the future factory floor will get 'smarter', undergoing a rapid evolution from dedicated static laser stations to robotic flexible/reconfigurable floorplans, which will require 'smart photon delivery' over long distances to the workpiece. Such a disruptive transition requires a new advanced generation of flexible laser tools suitable for the upcoming 4th industrial revolution.

Light has four characteristic properties, namely wavelength, polarization, intensity, and phase. In addition, use of optical fibres enables accurate control and shaping in the spatial domain through a variety of well-guided modes. Invariably, all photonic devices function by manipulating some of these properties. Despite their acclaimed success, so far HPFLs are used rather primitively as single-channel, single colour, mostly unpolarised and unshaped, raw power providers and remain at a relatively early stage (stage I) of their potential for massive scalability and functionality. Moreover, further progress in fibre laser power scaling, beam stability and efficiency is hindered by the onset of deleterious nonlinearities. On the other hand, the other unique attributes, such as extended 'colour palette', extensively controllable polarisation and beam shaping on demand, as well as massive 'parallelism' through accurate phase control remain largely unexplored. Use of these characteristics is inherent and comes natural to fibre technology and can add unprecedented functionality to a next generation of 'smart photon engines' and 'smart photon pipes' in a stage II of development.

This PG will address the stage II challenges, confront the science and technology roadblocks, seek innovative solutions, and unleash the full potential of HPFLs as advanced manufacturing tools. Our aim is to revolutionise manufacturing by developing the next generation of reconfigurable, scalable, resilient, power efficient, disruptive 'smart' fibre laser tools for the upcoming Digital Manufacturing era.

Research for the next generation of manufacturing tools, like in HiPPo PG, that will drive economic growth should start now to make the UK global leaders in agile laser manufacturing - enabling sustainable, resource efficient high-value manufacturing across sectors from aerospace, to food, to medtech devices and automotive. In this way the UK can repatriate manufacturing, rebalance the economy, create high added-value jobs, and promote the green agenda through efficient manufacturing. It will also enhance our defence sovereign capability, as identified by the Prime Minister in the Integrated Review statement to the House of Commons in November 2020.


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