Breaking bottlenecks

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Matthew Dale learnt of smart manufacturing innovations taking place in Japan at the 15th International Laser Marketplace

The Japanese Government is supporting the development of several new hubs that aim to supply breakthrough solutions based on state-of-the-art photonics and quantum technology.

Such was heard by attendees of the 15th International Laser Marketplace, which was hosted by Optech Consulting alongside the Laser World of Photonics in Munich this year.

The hubs are being established as part of the ongoing ‘Photonics and Quantum Technology for Society 5.0’ project, which was launched in 2018 by the The Cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP), and is set to conclude next year.

Making models

Dr Koji Yasui, senior chief technologist of Mitsubishi Electric and a sub program director of SIP, explained that one of the main goals of the new hubs will be to establish a cyber-physical system (CPS) for laser processing that seamlessly integrates cyberspace (virtual space) with physical space (real space). The CPS will be able to produce digital twins (simulations) for laser processing and provide a boost to smart manufacturing that will facilitate the breaking of production bottlenecks for users of laser processing, allowing them to address increasing customer demands and accept a larger number of orders.

The challenge with developing a CPS for laser processing, according to Yasui, is that laser processes are very difficult to model due to their complexity – each consisting of numerous thermal, non-thermal, physical and chemical processes that often take place simultaneously. 

However, he shared the positive news that in recent years, Professors at the University of Tokyo have achieved a breakthrough in this area and are now able to produce models – and thus digital twins – for a range of laser processes. These models were constructed using first principle calculations that handle each atom individually, as well as through the use of AI technology and by ‘connecting simulation codes from the nanometre level to the millimetre level’, Yasui said.

‘And now, the University of Tokyo is preparing a web-based service to construct digital twins for your applications,’ he remarked. ‘If you ask them laser processing conditions for a new material for example, they will find out the best processing conditions by using both AI technology based on their physical theory, and also by using on-site laser processing machines.’ For example, a sample of the material would be irradiated with a laser under many different conditions, and then the data from the processing results would be collected and analysed using AI to find the optimal processing conditions, which could then be delivered to the user.

These efforts will also be assisted by developments being made in quantum computing at the new hubs. ‘We consider quantum computing essential for the total optimisation of digital production,’ said Yasui. ‘However, unfortunately, today's quantum computing can only be applied to a limited range of applications. Now a breakthrough has been made in that we are now applying quantum computing to a variety of real industrial applications.’

This has been achieved with the help of high-level mathematic experts at Kyoto University and Keio University, who according to Yasui have successfully converted a range of industrial problems to a format that can be handled by quantum computing. For example, in laser processing, Yasui envisions quantum computing web-based services also being used by engineers to determine the optimal parameters for a process in a dramatically reduced time frame. The engineers can then use conventional computing within their firm to develop the final process, guided by the results delivered via quantum computing.

Yasui referred to this use of web-based computing as ‘Quantum as a Service’ or QaaS for short. 

Supreme scanning

Another recent development that has emerged from a member of the new hubs is Hamamatsu Photonics’ development of an innovative spatial light modulator that delivers exceptionally high pulse laser power capability of up to 400GW/cm2. The system is designed for high-power industrial pulsed laser systems and is expected to achieve high-throughput, high-precision laser processing. It is designed to deliver digital light control for innovative laser processing and is well-suited to applications involving resistant materials such as lightweight and high-strength carbon fibre reinforced plastics. 

‘Hamamatsu Photonics has successfully enhanced the power capability of this technology from the 10W level to the kW-level to cope with a wide variety of laser processing applications,’ said Yasui. A version of this spatial light modulator has been supplied to the laser processing CPS of the University of Tokyo, as well as to Utsunomiya University so it can develop systems requested by industrial users for cutting, welding and drilling. ‘A modular system is also being developed so that users can easily apply a feedback control system using the spatial light modulator in their own systems,’ Yasui added . 

The new hubs, whose members include Kyoto University, the University of Tokyo, Keio University, Utsunomiya University, Hamamatsu Photonics, Waseda University and Kyushu University, will continue to work in the fields of laser sources, feedback control and AI/quantum technology to develop innovative solutions that aim to overcome manufacturing bottlenecks. ‘We are very happy to connect our hubs with your hubs in Europe, in China, the United States and across the world,’ Yasui concluded. ‘Some hubs have already started collaboration with institutes and companies in Europe.’

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