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GSI to spearhead £1.2m research project

GSI Group Laser Division will launch a £1.2m collaborative research and development project in partnership with the LPA Group at Heriot-Watt University, PowerPhotonic 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 fibre-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.’

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 programme, 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 added: ‘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.’

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 fibre coupling techniques.  

Vital to achieving this is the expertise of the partners – the LPA Group at Heriot-Watt University is a leading academic group in physics and engineering for new technology laser devices, currently led by Professor Howard Baker, who has expertise in high power diode laser sources for industrial applications. Dr Roy McBride of PowerPhotonic will bring that company’s capabilities in micro-optic fabrication and diode laser characterisation to the project, while Professor Stewart Williams will head the team at The Welding Engineering Research Centre (WERC) at Cranfield University, the 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 fibre laser facility (8kW).

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