Developing cutting-edge lasers for the defence and manufacturing sectors

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A new project led by University of South Australia (UniSA) Professor David Lancaster in collaboration with the University of Adelaide has been awarded a $1.8 million Federal Government contract to develop technology that underpins the next generation of high-powered lasers in Australia for the defence and manufacturing sectors.

Funded by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), the three-year project will use the funding to help build sovereign manufacturing capability, bringing Australia up to speed with other developed nations.

Professor Lancaster, who heads one of the country’s leading laser and photonics manufacturing research laboratories at UniSA, said the project 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.

“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,” the Professor 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.”

“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. That is our aim.”

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

Professor Lancaster said Australia’s universities and defence sector ‘need to be more closely integrated’ to be able 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 added.

In addition to their applications in the defence sector, high-powered lasers are the preferred tools for the manufacturing sector as they can cut, shape and weld most industrial materials with high precision, which makes them ideal for the automotive, computer and clothing industries.

Image credit: https://www.unisa.edu.au/media-centre/Releases/2021/australia-on-target-to-bring-laser-technology-up-to-speed/