By Scott Wright

NEARLY £600,000 in grant funding has been awarded towards the development of 3D laser beams that can change shape.

The manufacturing and healthcare technology industries have been identified as potential beneficiaries of the innovation, which is being explored by researchers at the National Robotarium in Edinburgh.

Funding of £586,000 has been granted by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to research the lasers for potential industry application, which is hoped will make it easier and cheaper to make medical equipment and mobile devices that require highly-precise manufacturing.

The National Robotarium is based at Heriot-Watt University. Project lead Richard Carter, assistant professor of applied optics and photonics, said: “Manufacturing is of key strategic importance to the UK, with a particular focus on high-tech and high-value manufacturing.

“This research will address the priority area of digital manufacturing, enabling a bespoke, rapid response capability for the first time. The new methods we are developing represent a paradigm shift in the capabilities of laser-based manufacturing, making it possible to move between 3D beam shapes with zero downtime, low cost and minimal technical know-how.

“Through collaboration with our industry partners, we’ll be able to develop the lasers in line with what industry needs, providing solutions to manufacturing challenges across a wide range of sectors. However, this technology could also support research in quantum technology, waveguide physics and the bio-sciences – anywhere where light must be controlled and manipulated.”

Iain Stewart, UK Government Minister for Scotland, said: “This is cutting-edge technology in every sense of the phrase. These 3D lasers are set to unlock previously unheard of levels of precision.”