GSI to spearhead £1.2m "world class" research project

GSI Group Laser Division is to launch a £1.2m collaborative research and development project in partnership with the LPA Group at Heriot-Watt University, PowerPhotonic Ltd., and Cranfield University, thanks to investment from the Technology Strategy Board.

As lead partner in the High Efficiency Laser Processing Systems (HELPSYS) Project, GSI is aiming to develop fiber coupled diode laser sources with beam qualities good enough to be applicable to a broad range of mainstream applications. Specifically this will include a significant increase in the efficiency of current laser based welding processes to the point where they are more efficient than even conventional MIG or other techniques.

Dr Mark Greenwood, GSI technical director, said: "Diode system beam quality has so far limited the accessible market to niche applications such as soldering, plastic welding, hardening, and cladding. The significant beam quality improvements proposed by this project would enable diode laser systems to enter many of the markets dominated by incumbent technologies such as high-power CO2 and lamp-pumped Nd:YAG lasers."

Commenting on the Technology Strategy Board's investment in the project, their Technologist for Electronics, Photonics and Electrical Systems, Mike Biddle, said: "The Technology Strategy Board aims to stimulate the development and deployment of technologies which offer major business opportunities for the UK. The advanced laser processing system that will be developed through this project has the potential to be exploited globally. We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to invest in this world class research and development."

Benefiting UK Industry
Laser processing, specifically cutting and welding, is widely used across many industries including medical, automotive, electronics packaging, and aerospace. The technology developed by the HELPSYS project will be particularly relevant to high power applications in intensive production environments where ultimate process efficacy and total efficiency are important – such as automotive production, which requires significant quantities of high quality welds in large volumes.

In order to receive the investment, awarded under the Technology Strategy Board's collaborative research and development program, the project partners must prove the UK's capacity to develop and exploit the technology, the size of the market opportunity and the commercial benefits and sustainability of the proposed technology. Dr Greenwood commented: "The actual benefits in terms of manufacturing costs and energy efficiency achievable through exploitation of this technology will differ from case to case and this will dictate the speed at which the technology penetrates these additional industries."

He added: "We are confident that this project will directly benefit the laser and industrial processing industry, by developing new technologies for high power diode lasers and their use in new high efficiency welding processes, increasing the overall efficiency and achieving challenging cost and volume manufacturing goals."

Partnering for Innovation
In line with GSI's tradition of utilising its applications expertise to further laser technology innovation, the project will exploit this and the key technologies held by the project partners to achieve new benchmarks for the development of industrial lasers.

For example, the project incorporates plans for base modules which will integrate new capabilities at the diode laser chip level, innovative mounting and cooling configurations including new multi-layer planar ceramic technology, utilisation of new beam correction technology, and novel multi-beam to optical fiber coupling techniques.

Vital to achieving this is the expertise of the partners – the LPA Group at Heriot-Watt University is a world leading academic group in the Physics and Engineering for new technology laser devices since 1987, currently led by Prof. Howard Baker who has expertise in high power diode laser sources for industrial applications. Dr Roy McBride of PowerPhotonic Ltd. will bring that company's unique capabilities in micro-optic fabrication and diode laser characterization to the project, while Prof. Stewart Williams will head the team at The Welding Engineering Research Centre (WERC) at Cranfield University, the leading UK academic research group studying welding processes. It is extremely well equipped with the most up-to date arc welding equipment anywhere in the UK, along with the UK's highest power fiber laser facility (8kW).

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