The University of the West of Scotland (UWS) and Livingston-based Helia Photonics have developed a new robotic engineering system to make laser diodes with greater precision than current methods.
The ‘HelBot’ system can be used in a range of applications including telecoms, medical diagnostics, vision systems for self-driving vehicles, aviation, space, and forensic science.
Currently, laser diodes are manufactured in wafer form then separated into bars and coated to increase performance and lifetime. The bars are processed in batches having been orientated by hand, which results in breakages and loss – the expensive bars are thinner than a human hair and extremely delicate, making them susceptible to breakage from manual handling.
The new Helia Photonics and UWS process saw yields increase by almost 2000%, and production time decrease by 4000%.
The robotic engineering system was created through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), a programme from Innovate UK, which allowed the UWS to share its expertise in robotics with optical coatings specialist Helia.
Professor Milan Radosavljevic, Vice-Principal of Research, Innovation and Engagement at UWS, said: “It’s fantastic to see the KTP project deliver significant increased profitability for Helia Photonics.
“HelBot is a pioneering system and is testament to the incredible skills that Knowledge Transfer Partnerships pair together – joining up academia and industry to provide innovative solutions to global problems.”
The project received the highest grade of ‘Outstanding’ by the independent KTP Grading Panel. Subsequently, KTP Associate, Dr Daniel Melia, has been nominated in the ‘Future Innovator’ category of the upcoming Scottish Knowledge Exchansge Awards, which are due to be held in March 2022.
CEO of Helia Photonics Professor Caspar Clark said: “Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, the KTP was a huge success – we set challenging goals for this project and achieved them all.
“The team at UWS were brilliant and always there to help. Dr Daniel Melia, our KTP Associate, has been incredible and was supported internally by a world-class team lead, Dr Antoine Boudet. I am immensely proud of the outcome of this strong collaboration.”
Dr Stuart Mckay, Senior KTP Manager at UWS, said: “I’m in awe of what the team achieved. The level of productivity enhancement achieved represent a step-change for the business and photonics sector.
“UWS’s KTP programme continues to blaze a trail in terms of innovation, and this project is no exception. To see Dr Melia nominated for an award is an added bonus.”