The University of Manchester has a strong industrial heritage, being the first UK university to offer an engineering degree. The University's Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering houses the Laser Processing Research Centre (LPRC). Established in 2002 to focus on advanced machining, supporting a range of experimental work across the industrial curriculum.
In 2011, alongside the Data Storage Institute and National University of Singapore scientists, LPRC developed the world's first 50nm resolution white light nanoscope. Eight years on, the team at the centre continue to push boundaries with their research and have recently invested in a Trotec laser.
Within the LPRC, a variety of tools are used to process materials including a range of laser-based systems, mechanical cutting and metal cutting machines. The key research areas are additive and shaping processes, computer simulation and modelling, cutting, drilling and welding materials as well as micro, nanoprocesses, nanophotonics and metamaterials.
Despite the array of technology at their disposal, the research team at LPRC were unable to effectively process sheet plastic and recreating complex designs proved a largely time-consuming process.
Dr. David Whitehead, Senior Experimental Officer, began to search for equipment to complement the existing solutions in the centre and allow a broader scope for applications. After visiting a range of trade shows, including the industrial exhibition MACH, Dr. Whitehead decided that a closed cabinet laser machine would be the way forward for the LPRC, and a UK-based support team would also be important in the decision.
"The service we received from Trotec has been excellent. From installation to aftersales we can rely on Trotec as our supplier of choice."- Dr. David Whitehead - Senior Experimental Officer, Department of Mechanical Aerospace and Civil Engineering -
Dr. Whitehead visited a Trotec showroom where he was quickly convinced that the Speedy 300 laser cutter would be the ideal machine for the LPRC's requirements. Not only was the technology the perfect fit for the centre's requirements, Trotec's strong UK based technical support network was a strong influence in Dr. Whitehead's decision.
Since its installation, the Speedy machine has enabled the LPRC to process sheet plastic, bringing with it time savings, and the ability to create more complex shapes than previously possible.
One of the many applications that the Speedy has been utilised for since installation is the production of acrylic enclosures for the other lasers within the centre. Many of the centre's existing lasers are class 4 systems, and, unlike the Speedy 300, require additional PPE such as safety glasses to be safely operated. However, with the production of the new enclosures, the team are now able to take the lasers to trade shows and events. The Speedy system has also allowed a range of applications to be brought in-house, including the production of signage, reducing cost and lead times.
The Speedy laser cutter has also been used by the wider Department of Mechanical Aerospace and Civil Engineering for both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. For example, the laser was used during a postgraduate course to show how to use a laser as part of a small business. During this class, students personalised reusable bottles, a very different application from the laser's usual jobs – showing its versatility.
Overall, the Speedy laser has proved to be a highly efficient and reliable addition to the LRPC's machinery, broadening the scope for applications within the centre while also benefiting other areas of the university.
"We have used a number of different Trotec materials, however we mainly use the range of metals to create signage and other applications. These materials are ideal for our specialised applications and the variety offered is also a benefit, allowing us to source all materials from a single supplier."- Dr. David Whitehead - Senior Experimental Officer, Department of Mechanical Aerospace and Civil Engineering -