UK team develop laser to iron-out imperfections in metal

5 December 2017


A new laser processing laboratory has been commissioned at the UK’s premier laser research facility with the aim of developing unique methods of treating metals for use in high-value manufacturing, for example in high stress machinery such as aerospace components.

The new tool being developed by laser experts at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Central Laser Facility (CLF) will be capable of enhancing metal performance with much greater precision and in just a fraction of the time of traditional methods.

The laser is capable of advanced surface treatment by delivering powerful nanosecond pulses to the metal target. This sends shockwaves into the material, which compresses the atoms in the metal and leaves the structure locked in a compressed state.

This makes the metal much more resilient and resistant to cracks.

Dr James Nygaard, development laser scientist at CLF, said: “At CLF our lasers are among the most powerful in the world and have been used for a wide range of research such as probing the internal structure of matter under extreme conditions.

“We can harness the power of these laser technologies to solve real-world engineering problems and through the development of the laser shock peening technique there is potential to revolutionise the way metals for high-stress machinery are manufactured.”

The concept is similar to the traditional blacksmith’s hammer, but using a pulsed laser allows us to target precise areas on a structure – for example, the laser can be targeted at welds to add strength – and the compressive shockwave can be tailored by adjusting the laser parameters.

The laser shock peening technique is of specific importance to high-value sectors including nuclear power generation and aerospace, where aircraft engine fan blades can be laser peened to make improve their resistance to bird strike.

This new tool is powered by the in-house laser platform DiPOLE (Diode Pumped Optical Laser system for Experiments).

John Collier, Director of CLF, said: “This is the latest application to be developed by the team at CLF where we have used the experience of our laser experts to address potential problems for industry. Our next step will be to automate the technology using robotics to enable the treatment of large engineering components – this will save time and reduce costs, making the technique more broadly attractive to industry.”


Notes to editors

The Central Laser Facility (CLF) at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is one of the world’s leading laser facilities providing scientists from the UK and Europe with an unparalleled range of state-of-the-art laser technology. The CLF’s wide ranging applications include experiments in physics, chemistry and biology, accelerating subatomic particles to high energies, probing chemical reactions on the shortest timescales and studying biochemical and biophysical process critical to life itself.

From advanced, compact, tuneable lasers which can pinpoint individual particles to high power laser installations that recreate the conditions inside stars, a vigorous development programme ensures that our facilities maintain their international competitiveness.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000