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beam danger: overall they only account for 25 per an old airfield in Berkshire, in the heart of the
cent of all laser incidents. Duke University expects English countryside, Orion is being created by
that this trend to a greater number of non-beam Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment to help
incidents will continue as lasers are deployed into fine tune computer models running on state-of-
new industrial applications, and laser systems the-art supercomputers that aim to simulate the
become smaller and cheaper. cascade effect of complex triple fuel thermonuclear
One non-beam hazard that the team at Duke explosions. Scheduled for completion in 2010,
expects to become a particular problem in future Orion will incorporate a 90m-long laser hall
is nanoparticle manufacture. Laser interactions containing 10 long-pulse beam lines, each
with nanoparticles could help disperse widely producing 500J at 351nm in a 1ns pulse, and two
throughout the workplace what are potentially short-pulse beam lines, each producing 500J at
highly toxic and reactive particles that can easily 1053nm in a 0.5ps pulse. The facility will enable
cross the respiratory and blood/brain barriers. In compressed material to be heated to temperatures
addition, carbon nanoparticles have been over 10
K, generate pressures of 10
compared to gunpowder, and laser interactions develop accelerating fields of 100 MeVmm
with them represent a major fire and explosion radiograph dense material with <ps resolution,
hazard. measure radiation transport in material under
extreme conditions and exploit niche capabilities
Less process, more systems-
such as high-field interactions and fast ignition – all
wide focus
simulating the internal plasma dynamics of a
Most organisations in Europe operating lasers on thermonuclear weapon as it races through three
an industrial scale have laser safety officers in place. separate stages of explosion. The principal aim of
But approaches to laser safety can vary wildly. Many Orion is to maintain the credibility of Britain’s
organisations have not translated the general deterrent without underground testing: the big
principles of laser safety into methodologies challenge is to show that bombs designed and
appropriate for their specific manufacturing tested entirely virtually can avoid the ‘busted flush’ and most modern factories, with a vehicle coming
practices and workplaces. syndrome that bedevilled early thermonuclear off the production line every 49 seconds. With
A study by Dr Elizabeth Raymond and Professor weapons design in the 1950s – where the initial around 500 robots, almost all processes are highly
John Tyrer of Loughborough University in the UK nuclear trigger over-escalates and consumes the automated. With extensive CIM implementation,
identified a number of shortfalls in the way that plasma components before they can fire the factory – which emerged out of the shell of the
laser safety has been implemented in British firms effectively. now defunct DAF car manufacturing arm – has
and organisations with significant laser use. They Billed as the world’s most powerful laser, Orion been able to become a key regional agile
conducted research into the quality of laser safety could present formidable safety issues, both for manufacturing component of global car firms.
training being provided within firms. Their personnel and for the infrastructure of the plant. Lasers play a key role in NedCar’s production
research found that around three quarters of However, if Orion combines a futuristic virtual processes – both in manufacturing, and also in
appointed laser safety officers have a responsibility reality environment with lasers, the AWE’s solution ensuring safety. The plant’s production lines feature
for staff training on laser safety matters. This was to laser safety is equally futuristic, involving 3D VR hundreds of safety light curtains from sensor
despite only half (54 per cent) of these laser safety as well. Laser commissioning at the plant is automation firm Sick of Waldkirch. These include
officers having received some form of laser safety scheduled for mid-2009. The laser safety the MSL, the C2000 and the C4000. In addition,
training themselves. management processes in development for this mobile robots are protected by Sick safety laser
Raymond and Tyrer also found that theory tends project are built on the foundation that risk from scanners, such as the PLS and the S3000.
to be well taught on in-house training courses. But the in-facility hazards has been reduced to ‘as low The laser safety systems are part of an intelligent
this is at the expense of more practical and as reasonably practicable’ (ALARP) by the inclusion joint sensor approach, with photoelectric switches,
workplace oriented approaches. They found that of engineered protection systems and maintaining distance scanners, camera sensors and code readers
most courses are unduly theoretical in approach, personnel exclusion zones at laser shot time. The all integrated into a unified production line safety
and that safety calculations and practical laser safety management plan incorporates use of a laser system. This degree of safety has allowed NedCar
safety issues are poorly taught. Their research safety training programme that includes virtual to achieve extremely high levels of manufacturing
reveals that – beyond training issues – most British reality models of the laser environment. flexibility and agility through an almost unparalleled
firms had – at the time of the research – an undue level of through-plant automation.
reliance on administrative controls and personal
Achieving global manufacturing
protective equipment, rather than addressing
flexibility through safety
Useful information
systems-wide safety issues and work and One European firm that demonstrates the power
Health Protection Agency (UK)
production flow design. of a systems-wide approach to laser safety is
Netherlands automotive manufacturer NedCar.
3D safety for the world’s most
The company is one of Europe’s largest car
Laser Institute of America
powerful laser
manufacturers, producing vehicles on contract for
An innovative approach to laser systems safety has leading brands such as Volvo, Smart and Mitsubishi.
US Board of Laser Safety
been adopted by Project Orion. Built on the site of The cars are produced in one of Europe’s largest issue 2 • LaseR systeMs eUROPe 13
LSEspr09 pp12-13 Safety.indd 13 3/3/09 10:43:05
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