Robot-assisted laser technology to manufacture large- scale aerospace parts

A 15-month project has been launched that will combine laser processing technology with robotics for large-scale, high-end aerospace part production. The Innovate UK-funded

LaserTau project will see UK organisations TWI and CAV- AT collaborate with Swedish firms Prodtex, Cognibotics and Corebond to develop a prototype robot platform – named Tau robot – capable of offering high speed, sub-10µm accuracy, and high rigidity. The robot will be integrated with laser technology to form a reconfigurable processing cell capable of manufacturing aerospace components and assemblies on a large scale.

While a gantry version of the

prototype robot has already been created and successfully applied to factory application tests, the project now aims to expand the working envelope of the platform to around 3 x 1 x 1m. TWI is leading the project

as a technology enabler and system validator. It will focus on laser processing aspects of the project, based on the Tau PKM (parallel kinematic mechanism) machines and concepts

Ultrafast lasers could dramatically reduce impact of nuclear waste

Ekspla and Light Conversion have developed a laser system to accelerate radioactive decay of nuclear waste from tens of thousands of years to months, hours or even seconds – depending on the material.

developed mostly at Lund University, Sweden. Cognibotics, Prodtex and Corebond will work together in a coherent value chain where Corebond provide light-weight, high-stiffness carbon fibre reinforced polymer hardware, Prodtex will help develop a virtual model of the Tau system, and Cognibotics will provide a PKM-suitable robot motion controller. CAV-AT will offer experience in laser processing large areas relating to wing structures. TWI noted while the new

technology is being investigated for use in the aerospace industry, it will be capable of processing structures and components for any industry.

The jointly produced Sylos laser, dubbed ‘the most powerful among the fastest and the fastest among the most powerful’, is a high-intensity ultrafast laser with a peak power thousands of times higher than the power of a nuclear power plant. It is impulses such as this that have the potential to nullify the impact of nuclear waste, according to the two Lithuanian firms. Currently, the disposal of nuclear waste

is comprised of storing the waste in containers either above or underground, depending on the decay period of the radioactive material. This method has raised safety concerns,

however, as some of the waste is disposed not too far from densely populated areas, and highly radioactive waste has to be safely stored for up to tens of thousands of years.

The initial idea that ultrafast lasers could

potentially solve the nuclear waste disposal problem was raised by Gérard Mourou, one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018. Speaking to The Conversation earlier

this year, he said: ‘Take the nucleus of an atom. It is made up of protons and neutrons. If we add or take away a neutron,


it changes absolutely everything. It is no longer the same atom, and its properties will completely change. The lifespan of nuclear waste is fundamentally changed, and we could cut this from a million years to 30 minutes! ‘We are already able to irradiate large quantities of material in one go with a high- power laser, so the technique is perfectly applicable and, in theory, nothing prevents us from scaling it up to an industrial level. This is the project that I am launching in partnership with the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, or CEA, in France. In 10 or 15 years we think we will have something we can demonstrate. This is what really allows me to dream, thinking of all the future applications of our invention.’ The Sylos high-density ultrafast laser

system might become a much-needed solution for this application, Ekspla and Light Conversion affirm. However, several challenges are yet to be met before laser systems such as this could be applied on an industrial scale. ‘We do believe that lasers like Sylos can be adapted to solve the nuclear waste issue globally, without leaving it for future generations to deal with,’ confirmed Darius Gadonas, head of the scientific laser systems division at Light Conversion. ‘How soon this could be achieved will depend on the political will of governments, since lasers and infrastructure of this kind could cost up to billions of euros per unit.’




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