Automotive manufacturing on the cusp of new tech gains

A next-gen laser technology project promises to bring Australia up to speed with other developed countries.

The Australian manufacturing and defence sectors are set to reap benefits of strides being made locally in high-powered laser technology advancement after a new federal government contract was announced.

The University of South Australia (UniSA) has been awarded a $1.8 million funding to help build sovereign manufacturing capability with the help of next-generation laser technology.

High-powered lasers are the preferred tools for the manufacturing sector as they can cut, shape and weld most industrial materials with high precision.

Their ability to manipulate and transform materials makes them ideal for the automotive, computer and clothing industries as they can create extremely fine features that are near impossible to make using traditional machining equipment.

UniSA Professor of Laser Engineering, David Lancaster, will lead the three-year project, funded by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), in collaboration with the University of Adelaide.

Professor Lancaster, who heads one of the country’s leading laser and photonics manufacturing research laboratories at UniSA, will bring Australia up to speed with other developed nations.

“High-powered lasers are increasingly being used in defence and manufacturing, but despite a long history of developing lasers in Australia, our technology is still relatively immature compared to other countries,” he said.

“There is a substantial gap between the research outputs and the needs of our defence industry, so Australia has had to buy this technology from other countries, which is quite restrictive because most nations severely limit their exports of lasers.”

Over the next three years, Prof Lancaster aims to build a new type of high-powered laser that combines multiple smaller lasers, fine tuning the manufacturing process so it is cheaper and more efficient.

“In the past, I have worked on lasers that take years to build and cost millions of dollars. I think it’s more important to put years of effort to develop the technology and manufacturing processes to build many miniature and safer lasers which cost hundreds of dollars each,” said Lancaster.

“That is our aim.”

UniSA’s Laser Physics and Photonics Devices Lab will manufacture the lasers and the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensors will develop the specialist laser glass.

Australia’s universities and defence sector, according to Professor Lancaster, need to be more closely integrated to build sovereign independence in laser technology.

“The reason that UniSA and the University of Adelaide have been selected for this project is that our miniature laser technology and manufacturing processes are world leading and will supercharge the DSTG’s laser system program,” he said.



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