Advanced Freeform Generator

Lead Research Organisation: University of Huddersfield
Department Name: Sch of Computing and Engineering


Freeform and micro/nano-structured functional surfaces underpin many next generation engineering products like novel optics (lenses/mirrors) used in astronomy, semiconductor manufacture, imaging and illumination systems in aerospace and automotive sectors, as well as various micro/nano-structured surface-enabled self-clearing/anti-icing products. There is a huge scientific 'push' and technology 'pull' for more adventurous surfaces with substantial functional advantages. However, due to the limitation of machining reliability and efficiency of current micro- and nano-manufacturing technologies, it remains challenging to make these products at a high-volume production scale. The need for the development of novel/improved manufacturing processes and future ISO standards for freeform and structured surfaces is now more urgent than ever.

A new, highly specialised, and exciting piece of equipment, the Nanotech650FGV2, has the potential to address this need. It possesses diamond turning and raster fly-cutting functions, fast-tool-servo and slow slide servo elements, and micro milling and grinding spindles. The acquisition of a Nanotech650FGV2 would significantly enhance the University of Huddersfield's Centre for Precision Technologies' (CPT's), and indeed the UK's, capability to generate more severe and advanced functional surfaces feeding into areas of novel optics, new surface functionalities and ultra-precision manufacture.

The proposed strategic equipment will enable breakthrough research on novel multi-freeform optics for disruptive embedded sensor/instruments, novel hierarchical patterned surfaces for functional orientated applications and GDT for complex surface manufacturing. The research programme will lead to a step-change in ultra-precision freeform manufacturing in terms of complexity of surface geometry and texture, new/improved machining technology on novel engineering materials, and in-depth understanding of structure, processing, dynamics and surface functionalities.

The major usage of the equipment will focus on the manufacturing of freeform and structured surfaces to address the EPSRC Future Metrology Hub's Grand Challenges in embedded metrology (where new complex optics are critical for miniaturised sensors/instruments, for example, multiple freeform surfaces in a single optical component allow simultaneous correction of light aberrations in sensors/instruments) and the Hub's Platform Research Programme in functional surfaces (for example, hierarchical structured surfaces will allow incorporation of multiple functions into a single surface morphology). It will also be widely used for CPT's research in on-machine technology development, surface integrity, tooling, in-line measurement and process control. To ensure maximum usage, the machine will be offered as a research platform for collaborative research projects, and as a demonstrator facility for short programmes (typically 1-3 days) of "pump-priming" experiments through an online booking system.

Furthermore, the capability of the Nanotech650FGV2 will open a new avenue for CPT to explore frontier technologies and allow fast prototyping/development of novel optical devices and subsystems. Prototypes derived from this equipment will be quickly demonstrated and validated by UK partners, e.g. Catapult centres and technology developers, industry end-users, through the Metrology Hub to UK industry. The knowledge created will help to develop national and international standards to rapidly support production of new high added value products like compact/minimized micro-objective systems and spectra instruments for wider embedded metrology applications in UK smart manufacturing. The research enabled by the Nanotech650Gv2 directly aligns with the UK Government's Industrial Strategy and EPSRC Manufacturing the Future theme to support high value manufacturing and deliver significant economic impact in the next 10-50 years.

Planned Impact

Aside from the academic community, the strategic investment in the Nanotech650FGV2 will have wide impact on UK economy, society, people and knowledge transfer.

A recent independent review of industrial digitisation - 'Made Smarter Review' (October 2017) - set the vision for the UK to become 'a global industrial leader in creating, adopting and exporting advanced digital technologies' by 2030 ( The proposed Advanced Freeform Generator facility would make a significant contribution to realising this aspiration by (1) boosting the health, scope and capability of the research disciplines that underpin advanced digital manufacturing technologies and (2) fostering new academic-industrial relationships in frontier digital manufacturing. There are a broad range of industries and Catapult centres involved in high-precision manufacturing and many of their research and future products can be enhanced through the use of freeform and structured surfaces, for example, costs/energy (material saving, aircraft efficiency), environment (safe automobile, better lighting system), and health (better image systems, better functional implants). Economic impacts are expected for a wide range of UK manufacturers/end-users, as well as at technology development companies feeding into those supply chains. Short- to medium-term benefits will arise through increased competitiveness of UK companies to offer unique products, whilst longer term benefits will result from the economic advantage of such competitiveness.

The new products derived from the Nanotech650FGV2 enabled research outcomes will also bring positive societal impacts. The high machining reliability of the equipment will allow rapid prototyping of more ambitious designs for next generation products such as displays, sensors and instrumentation, medical imaging systems and therapy devices, optical devices and subsystems etc. These performance enhanced devices/products will promote the development of civilian industry (e.g. super quality cars, smart mobile phones) and improve quality of daily life (e.g. permanent bone implants and various healthcare devices).

Furthermore, the access arrangements outlined in the Case for Support will increase the pool of expertise relevant to the related facilities enabling next-generation applications to help solve manufacturing and measurement challenges in diverse fields. Innovation calls under the EPSRC Future Metrology Hub's flexible funding will be made available for freeform and structured surface research and technology innovation, to create new collaborative research programmes with industry to push UK future innovative products using freeform for wider applications. A batch of new scientists and engineers, especially early-stage postdoctoral and graduate researchers, will be trained in these projects and become vital assets to UK industry.

The research programme enabled by this equipment will make significant contributions to knowledge and understanding in: advanced manufacturing, materials science, nanoscience and nanotechnology, precision metrology and healthcare. The exploitation of fundamental knowledge in all these areas will help maintain the leading position for UK enterprise in future advanced manufacturing and new technology development and lead to the development of future ISO standards on freeform structured surfaces. This will help deliver the UK's international impact and enable the UK to be first-to-market with fully compliant products and thus propel the UK economy towards future growth. For example, the research on multi-freeform optics will support the development of more agile, flexible and responsive measurement technologies, accelerating the UK autonomous manufacturing system transformation and bringing a leading competitive edge to the UK's advances in future high value manufacturing.


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Description 2022-23 Dr Zhen Tong and Prof Liam Blunt hosted and chaired a meeting of the EUSPEN Structured and Freeform Surfaces Special Interest Group. This event brought together researchers from across Europe and was an excellent mechanism to showcase the work being carried out on the Advance Freeform Generator. As part of the event, participants were invited on a lab tour to see the machine in situ. The lab was also visited by the President on the Institution of Mechanical Engineers during a recent visit to campus.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Manufacturing in the UK for high gradient cavities (MUHiG)
Amount £134,805 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/W005263/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2022 
End 11/2024
Description Transferring Technology in Optimised Metal-Mirror Fabrication
Amount £365,174 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/V001280/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2020 
End 08/2024
Description Collaborations with CRYSTRAN ltd. 
Organisation Crystran Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution CRYSTRAN ltd. is one of the UK biggest optical material supplier (IR and UV materials). I have visited the company and introduced the new machining capability of the equipment on optics manufacturing. We have agreed to test and optimise the processing technology for some novel optical materials.
Collaborator Contribution CRYSTRAN ltd. supplied optic material samples for testing.
Impact CRYSTRAN have tested the mechanical properties of those materials. Cutting experiments will be conduct once the new equipment is installed.
Start Year 2019
Description Collaborations with Contour Fine Tooling Ltd 
Organisation Contour Fine Tooling Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have designed and tested the cutting performance of several specifically designed cutting tools on our current diamond turning machine. Further cutting performance test will be conducted when the new equipment is installed.
Collaborator Contribution CFT has provided diamond cutting tools for tests.
Impact New tool tip shaping technique for special designed diamond tools.
Start Year 2019
Description Collaborations with Qioptiq ltd 
Organisation Qioptiq Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have introduced the new machining capability of the new equipment and the initial results of closed-loop fast-tool-servo freeform machining using current diamond turning machine. Qioptiq has also been invited to join our STFC-IPS project on large metal mirrors manufacturing where the new equipment plays a key role. The project application was successful and officially started in September 2020.
Collaborator Contribution Qioptiq ltd has provided valuable advice on our technique roadmap for optics manufacturing and also offered in-kind support to the STFC-IPS project application.
Impact New STFC-IPS funding awarded (ST/V001280/1).
Start Year 2019
Description Co-Chair of EUSPEN Special Interest Group - Dr Zhen Tong 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact EUSPEN Special Interest Group "Structured and Freeform Surfaces" was hosted by University of Huddersfield 28 - 30 September 2022. Dr Zhen Tong was a Co-Chair.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description EUSPEN 2020 Virtual Special Interest Group Meeting: Structured & Freeform Surfaces 6th - 8th October 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The EUSPEN SIG meeting on Structured and Freeform Surfaces (SFS) organised every two years. I was the co-organiser and session chair for the EUSPEN SIG SFS meeting 6-8 Oct. 2020. I delivered a section keynote on "Ultra-precision freeform machining with assisted of embedded metrology" and introduced our research progress on the integration of optical sensors into ultra-precision machine tools. We demonstrated the advantages of closed-loop freeform machining through several case studies.
The presentation has stimulated an increased interest in this research area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020