The importance of funding and a UK national strategy were highlighted at the AILU’s ILAS 2015 conference, held in Kenilworth, UK on 17-18 March. Speakers from research, industry, and government all descended upon the Chesford Grange hotel to discuss the latest developments and products in industrial laser processing, but also how to gain grants to help take techniques from testing to tangible products.
Lynne McGregor, lead technologist of high value manufacturing for Innovate UK, discussed the importance of photonics across the many areas that the organisation funds. Innovate UK is responsible for investing £400m into different disciplines to help improve innovative and beneficial products' technology readiness level (TRL).
While only one area of Innovate UK’s focus areas lists photonics directly - the enabling technology sector - she repeatedly pointed out that as an enabling technology, the photonics industry features across nearly all, if not all, of the other regions of interest.
McGregor said that Innovate UK also provides networking opportunities in order to help start-ups or researchers find industrial partners, investors, or collaborators opening up avenues that may not have been possible for a small-scale operation to have entered into on its own.
Ian Tracey from the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory made clear in his talk on the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) the importance of applicants applying for the correct grants, and to have given themselves the best chance to secure funding. Tracey pointed to the KTN’s Smart Award as the recipient of the most applications, but warned that this meant more people were unsuccessful, stating: ‘If you are eligible for other awards, it is probably better to go for them.’
The KTN, described by Louise Jones of the KTN, in a separate talk, ‘is the UK’s innovation network. It brings together businesses, entrepreneurs, academics and funders to develop new products, processes and services. We help business to grow the economy and improve people’s lives by capturing maximum value from innovative ideas, scientific research and creativity.’ The network operates on a broader section of the TRL scale, focusing on everything from Concept Developed (level 2) to Capability Validated over a Range of Parts (level 8), through grants, investment, and loans.
The importance of helping research institutes and universities transfer their knowledge to industry was forced home by the array of researcher talks on many different laser applications, from these non-commercial organisations. Micro-processing, marking, and cutting were all focus areas, but welding and additive manufacturing research and applications were the most extensively looked at. Both welding and AM are at the centre of a number of different research programmes at the moment, as laser welding explores and expands its horizons and methods and AM aims for industry readiness.
Welding researchers from across Europe discussed micro welding techniques, new workable materials due to advanced laser techniques, and the advantages of laser welding compared to conventional methods.
The materials that are processable through AM were discussed extensively, and there seemed to be a number of new possibilities. But, in questions at the end of one session, standardisation of available materials and their properties was called for in order to assist industrial users in selecting products for their applications. William O’Neil of the University of Cambridge also pointed out that the laser AM sector was facing strict competition from electron beam additive manufacturing and that in order to dominate the market, laser systems providers would have to speed up their processing times.
ILAS' delegate registration was up to 219, a 10 per cent increase on the last event held in 2013, about half of which were R&D organisations.