Heriot-Watt vows £0.6 million laser beam award will transform UK industrial capabilities
13 Jul 2021
Researchers at the National Robotarium based at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University have secured a £586,000 Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant to develop revolutionary 3D laser beams.
The innovation is set to transform the manufacturing and healthcare technology industries, said UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart. This will make it easier and more cost effective to produce products that require highly-precise manufacturing, such as medical equipment and mobile devices.
Said Stewart: "This is cutting-edge technology in every sense of the phrase. These 3D lasers are set to unlock previously unheard of levels of precision and so transform our manufacturing and medical technology industries, boosting the UK's global reputation for innovation and attracting jobs and further investment.
The funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, will support the research and development of the lasers for industry application, accelerating the commercialisation of the technology for the benefit of businesses and the wider UK economy.
Lasers are key to modern manufacturing, with the global laser processing market projected to grow from £2.8 billion in 2020 to £4.1 billion by 2025. They are used widely by industry to produce precise incisions and mould materials into specific shapes.
However, this traditionally depends on melting or vaporising the material, requiring the laser’s energy tobe focussed on the right points. Standard laser beam shape makes it difficult to tailor this for specific manufacturing processes, decreasing efficiency and limiting what can be made.
The research to be undertaken at the National Robotarium will develop laser beams which have been specifically designed to meet the exact manufacturing requirements of products, improving efficiency and precision.
The National Robotarium is supported by £21 million from the UK Government and £1.4 million from the Scottish Government as part of the £1.3 billion Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal - a 15 year investment programme jointly funded by both governments and regional partners.
Scottish Government cabinet secretary for finance and the economy Kate Forbes commented:
“I’m very pleased to hear this cutting-edge research will be carried out at the National Robotarium, which is funded through the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, and that it will have a direct impact on our world leading manufacturing industries.
“This is a crucial time for business, trade and investment in Scotland. City Region and Growth Deals have a key role to play in our economic recovery from the pandemic as we work towards a fairer and more inclusive Scotland.”
The new technique could be harnessed to improve how holes for sensors and cameras on smartphone screens are drilled and to increase the density of information on semiconductor chips, helping to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for more memory in devices.
Other examples include surgery, fabricating waveguide devices to support telecommunications and the internet, microscopy and even astronomic telescopes.
The National Robotarium is a world-leading research facility for robotics and artificial intelligence that will create innovative solutions to global challenges using cutting-edge research, product design and industry collaboration.