MTC engineer awarded funding for laser research

Manufacturing Technology Centre principal research engineer, Dr Sundar Marimuthu, has been awarded a prestigious UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship.

The UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship scheme supports talented people in universities, businesses, and other research and innovation scenarios, to ensure a vibrant environment for research and innovation in the UK.

Dr Marimuthu, part of the laser processing team at the MTC, has been awarded a grant of £1.5m over four years to develop the next-generation laser-based manufacturing processes for material processing of advanced composites. The funding supports the MTC’s mission to increase the uptake of laser processing in UK industry.

Widespread use of advanced composites in the UK automotive and aerospace industries is vital in terms of both environmental sustainability and their long-term value. However, most current laser-based manufacturing technologies have been developed for metals and alloys that are incompatible with these innovative materials. As part of his fellowship, Sundar and his team will develop and demonstrate next-generation laser-based manufacturing technology that will enable advanced composites to become effective solutions for application and adoption across multiple sectors.

The goal will be achieved by developing two laser-based technologies into fully-fledged manufacturing solutions, underpinning the large scale industrialisation of advanced composite solutions.

The first of these technologies is the water-jet guided laser process. The fellowship will develop a high-power water-jet guided laser system for cutting, drilling and machining advanced composite materials. The second technology will be based on ultrashort pulsed lasers. While the extraordinary capability of ultrashort pulsed laser machining has been proven using low power lasers for a limited number of niche applications, its low material removal rate is limiting its viability in the wider manufacturing sector. To address this, the MTC together with its partners, will be developing a high-power ultrashort pulsed laser machining process, that will offer productivity and quality in line with the industrial requirements.

The Fellowship will also allow the development of Dr Marimuthu’s skills and those of his research team to become leaders in laser manufacturing. The skills and technologies developed through this fellowship will support UK industry to exploit the widespread innovation of composite materials in a variety of fields including zero-emissions transport.

Dr Marimuthu said that two emerging laser technologies – water-jet guided lasers and ultra-short pulsed lasers – have the potential to transform the use of advanced materials in UK industries.

He said, “The exploitation of these laser technologies will have a significant impact on the ability to machine advanced materials which are essential to develop zero-emission transportation – a key to meeting the Government’s net-zero ambitions.”

UKRI chief executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said, “I am delighted that UKRI is able to support the next generation of research and innovation leaders through our Future Leaders Fellowship programme. The new Fellows announced will have the support and freedom they need to pursue their research and innovation ideas, delivering new knowledge and understanding and tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Dr Marimuthu has more than 15 years of experience in laser-based manufacturing. Before joining the MTC he was a lecturer at Loughborough University and a research associate at the Laser Processing Research Centre at the University of Manchester. He achieved his PhD in supersonic laser cutting at Jadavpur University in India.

The MTC was founded by the University of Birmingham, Loughborough University, the University of Nottingham and TWI Ltd. The MTC’s industrial members include some of the UK’s major global manufacturers.

Part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, supported by Innovate UK, the MTC aims to provide a competitive environment to bridge the gap between university-based research and the development of innovative manufacturing solutions.

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