25 January 2021
Vector leading £1.5m BLOODLINE project to develop chips for 3D metal laser printers
Semiconductor laser start-up Vector Photonics Ltd (which was spun off from Scotland’s University of Glasgow in March) is leading the £1.5m project BLOODLINE (Bright Laser diOdes fOr aDvance metaL addItive maNufacturing systEms), an international consortium – funded by UK Government agency Innovate UK (which provides funding and support for business innovation as part of UK Research and Innovation) – that is developing chips based on its photonic-crystal surface-emitting laser (PCSEL) technology, targeting 3D metal laser printing applications. This market is forecasted to quadruple to $10bn by 2025 (according to the report ‘Additive Manufacturing with Metal Powders, 2019’ from SmarTech Analysis).
Vector Photonics is joined in the project consortium by a Japanese epitaxy manufacturer and the UK’s not-for-profit Compound Semiconductor Applications (CSA) Catapult (established by Innovate UK, and based in South Wales), which will undertake chip reliability testing. A “leading industrial equipment manufacturer” in Japan will provide product assessment and, ultimately, a route to market, although the chips produced will be suitable for any printer manufacturer.
“3D metal laser printers hold metal powder in a ‘powder bed’ at just below melting point,” says Vector’s chief technology officer Dr Richard Taylor. Currently, CO2 or fiber lasers, directed by mirrors, scan over the surface of the powder, melting the metal powder to the layer below (selective laser melting, SLM).
“Vector Photonics’ PCSEL technology will revolutionize the SLM process,” reckons Taylor. “PCSELs offer a unique combination of increased laser power (by scaling up the PCSEL arrays), improved reliability (by removing the mirrors and offering an entirely solid-state solution), and greater manufacturing efficiency (the result of higher-resolution printing with less finishing overheads and faster printing speeds),” he adds.
“We believe that PCSELs will enable an entirely new class of next-generation metal printers and contribute to even greater market growth,” Taylor concludes.