Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

Laser welding technology earns Atherton Entrepreneurship Award

Article Date: January 24, 2012

KINGSTON, ON -- A breakthrough optical measurement technology for laser cutting developed by two Queen’s physicists is the winner of this year’s Atherton Entrepreneurship Award.

The technology, discovered by principal investigator Dr. James Fraser and doctoral candidate Paul Webster, solves a significant problem inherent in the use of lasers in automated industrial welding, drilling and machining. The researchers’ discovery opens broad new avenues for the use of high-power lasers in both the manufacturing and eventually the medical sector.

Lasers are often used to drill, cut and weld materials, such as steel, because they are efficient, accurate and effective. While lasers are easy to aim, it is difficult to control how deep the laser penetrates into the material.

This problem is particularly acute in high-performance welding of thicker materials, where there is no effective means of monitoring the depth and quality of laser welds on the fly. Since the depth of individual welds cannot be accurately controlled, industry tends to rely on destructive testing methods to optimize the process and minimize defects. This results in higher labour costs, inconsistent product quality and high final product costs.

The Queen’s technology provides a way to measure, in real time, how far into a material (metal, semiconductors, plastics, or even tissue) a laser beam has penetrated. Capable of gauging depth differences finer than the width of a human hair, this technology is the first step in enabling automatic depth control for laser processing.

The potential of the technology, which has attracted the interest of industry, has already been recognized with more than $700,000 in development funding from Queen’s University’s PARTEQ Innovations, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

“Lack of predictability in weld quality is a major hurdle in expanding industry’s adoption of high-speed laser welding,” says Stephen Adolph, Commercial Development Manager at PARTEQ. “By controlling the weld depth, this Queen’s technology has the capability to dramatically improve the speed and quality of welded parts in a wide range of industries, leading to improved manufacturing and competitiveness.”

“It also holds promise as a key enabler for the use of lasers in precision robotic and remote surgeries, where the ability to selectively cut tissue with lasers is impossible without precise depth control of the laser.”

High performance, high throughput automated laser welding is an important process for industry in Canada in a wide range of applications, including automotive manufacturing and oil and gas production.

To accelerate the technology’s path to market, PARTEQ has created a company around the technology, Laser Depth Dynamics Inc. The Atherton Award provides seed funding of $34,000 to help launch the company.

The award, established in 2005 by Professor David Atherton of Queen’s Dept. of Physics, aims to assist young Queen’s University entrepreneurs to start up an entrepreneurial science or engineering business in Canada. The award is administered by PARTEQ Innovations, the technology transfer office of Queen’s University.

Contact:

Stephen Adolph
Director, Commercial Development
PARTEQ Innovations