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Making light work – new research to exploit light in manufacturing

22 March 2016

Four projects that exploit light in innovative manufacturing processes and technologies have secured £2.7 million funding from the EPSRC.

Dr Matt Werner loading a silicon wafer into an ALD (atomic layer deposition) reactor for processing (Credit: EPSRC)

Following on from 14 feasibility studies announced in 2014, these schemes, which have support from companies such as Rolls-Royce and Renishaw, have the potential to impact the aerospace, laser and precision engineering industries.

The projects are diverse and exciting in their aims. They range from producing ultra-thin films for use in electronics, to incorporating metallic nanoparticles into materials such as plastics that can act as sensors or anti-microbial surfaces, to using lasers to make crystals for thin-film lasers and using terahertz radiation to detect where materials are stressed.

The funded projects are:

Photoelasticity for sub-surface stress measurements in structural ceramics coating systems led by Andrew Moore, Heriot-Watt University and John Nicholls, Cranfield University:

Usually the stresses in materials are detected via visual inspection. This is a problem for ceramic coating materials such as those used in the latest aircraft where the stresses are hidden underneath.

Heriot-Watt in conjunction with Cranfield is helping solve this by developing technology that uses terahertz radiation to see through the materials and measure their stresses.
These new techniques will enable in-process control during manufacturing applications and in-service quality assurance, for a range of materials where this is not currently available, enabling step changes in the manufacturing processes used and the components that can be produced.

Photochemical ALD to manufacture functional thin films led by Paul Chalker, University of Liverpool:

The purpose of this project is to develop a novel photochemical ALD manufacturing technology to coat 3D components and feedstock powders with ultrathin functional coatings.

This could enable production of new applications where ultrathin functional materials can be exploited, such as display electronics, biomedical devices and photovoltaics amongst others.

Lasers Making Lasers led by Jacob MacKenzie, University of Southampton:

Photonics is an underpinning technology that pervades nearly every aspect of our daily lives, often without being fully appreciated by the general public. Laser-tools have been the enabling factor in making critical components for high-value products in many consumer and health-related devices, such as micro-machining of medical devices, printer and engine nozzles; marking, cutting and drilling non-ferrous materials – sapphire or hardened glass and ceramics; to structuring semiconductor devices for computers and display technologies, which ultimately we, the public, rely upon daily.

This project will enhance this technology by developing Pulsed Laser Deposition (PLD) technology to grow single crystals for thin-film lasers. By working with industry and developing the technology further they could have a potential major impact in high-value manufacturing, including allowing:

• Precision micro-machining with a wide dynamic range of processing parameters
• Fast, high-quality dicing and structuring of transparent, brittle, and high-strength materials
• Plastic welding and cutting

PHOTOBIOFORM II (to develop bio-inspired, industrially relevant manufacturing processes that can selectively pattern metals onto non-conductive substrates) led by Marc Desmulliez, Heriot-Watt University:

Selective formation of metallic nanoparticles in plastics has a wide range of uses for generating conductive tracks, creating antimicrobial surfaces and for the fabrication of sensors and actuators which has a broad spectrum of applications such as microsystems, printed electronics and wearable devices.

Photobioform II aims to develop bio-inspired, industrially relevant manufacturing processes that can selectively pattern metals onto non-conductive substrates using light-harvesting complexes to accelerate the reduction of metal ions embedded into these substrates.

For more information visit the EPSRC website.

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