Robotic Innovation to Enhance Manufacturing

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A collaboration with Helia Photonics, whose CEO is alumnus Caspar Clark, is set to revolutionise the manufacturing of key components, used in a range of applications including telecoms, medical diagnostics, vision systems for self-driving vehicles, aviation, space and forensic science.

The ‘HelBot’ system, developed by Livingston-based, Helia Photonics, in collaboration with University of the West of Scotland (UWS), is a world-first in terms of mechanical precision and performance.

The components – laser diodes – are manufactured in wafer form, then separated into bars which must be coated to increase performance and lifetime. The bars are processed in batches having been orientated by hand, which results in breakages and loss – the expensive bars are thinner than a human hair and extremely delicate, making them susceptible to breakage from manual handling.

Identifying the opportunity to improve the process using robotics, Helia Photonics – specialists in the manufacturing of thin film optical coatings – approached UWS to collaborate through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) – a programme from Innovate UK.

The team at UWS were brilliant and always there to help. Dr Daniel Melia, our KTP Associate, has been incredible and was supported internally by a world-class team lead, Dr Antoine Boudet. I am immensely proud of the outcome of this strong collaboration.

Professor Caspar Clark, CEO, Helia Photonics
Dr Daniel Melia, UWS KTP Associate, pictured at Helia Photonics lab

UWS is the number one university in Scotland for KTPs and has a prominent Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging at its Paisley campus.  Dr Luc Rolland, School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS; Professor Des Gibson, Director, Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging at UWS; and Dr Parag Vichare, School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS, formed the academic team behind this ground-breaking project.

The development of this innovative new system has significantly transformed production of the components, with yields increasing by almost 2000%, and production time decreasing by 4000%.

Professor Milan Radosavljevic, Vice-Principal of Research, Innovation and Engagement at UWS, said: “It’s fantastic to see the KTP project deliver significant increased profitability for Helia Photonics.

“HelBot is a pioneering system and is testament to the incredible skills that Knowledge Transfer Partnerships pair together – joining up academia and industry to provide innovative solutions to global problems.”

Professor Caspar Clark, CEO of Helia Photonics, said: “Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, the KTP was a huge success – we set challenging goals for this project and achieved them all.

“The team at UWS were brilliant and always there to help. Dr Daniel Melia, our KTP Associate, has been incredible and was supported internally by a world-class team lead, Dr Antoine Boudet. I am immensely proud of the outcome of this strong collaboration.”

The project received the highest grade of ‘Outstanding’ by the independent KTP Grading Panel. Subsequently, KTP Associate, Dr Daniel Melia, has been nominated in the ‘Future Innovator’ category of the upcoming Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards, which are due to be held in March 2022.

Dr Stuart Mckay, Senior KTP Manager at UWS, said: “I’m in awe of what the team achieved. The level of productivity enhancement achieved represent a step-change for the business and photonics sector. UWS’s KTP programme continues to blaze a trail in terms of innovation, and this project is no exception. To see Dr Melia nominated for an award is an added bonus.”

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are a flagship programme from Innovate UK and form a collaboration between a business, an academic institution and a graduate. The graduate is employed by the academic institution as a ‘KTP Associate’ who works full-time at the business involved, under the guidance of an expert academic team. This three-way partnership forges strong ties between industry and academia and helps to deliver solutions to real-world problems.

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