CSIR NLC to develop local photonics industry

14th September 2018 By: Jessica Oosthuizen - Creamer Media Reporter

CSIR NLC to develop  local photonics industry

PHOTONICS DEVELOPMENT The Photonics Prototyping Facility will officially be launched during the 2018/19 financial year

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) National Laser Centre (NLC), in Pretoria, aims to contribute to the development of the South African photonics industry, says NLC head Delon Mudaly.

“In relation to the global environment and the number of companies that exist globally, South Africa does not have a photonics industry to speak of . . .” he tells Engineering News.

However, the industry has a high market value and, more importantly, it is a key enabler for other industries, including manufacturing, energy and the medical sector, he notes.

Therefore, the NLC wants to contribute to the growth of the industry in South Africa by developing a portfolio of novel prototypes for product development. It also aims to analyse and focus on particular areas of the value chain where it can identify a competitive value proposition to market end-users and its direct clients and development partners.

Moreover, the NLC has certain core competencies and organisational capabilities within the CSIR to be globally competitive, Mudaly highlights, adding that additive manufacturing is one such example and a strong area for the NLC. “We can address most areas of the value chain for additive manufacturing and partner with others if there are any gaps.”

Additive manufacturing refers to a process by which digital three-dimensional (3D) design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material.

Mudaly comments that the NLC seeks to address barriers to entry in this industry by reducing the cost of laser systems and finding opportunities for immediate application domains, or use cases, based on the benefits of additive manufacturing.

Further, the NLC has core capabilities in optical design, laser beam shaping, photonic testing and diagnostic infrastructure, as well as an advanced understanding of core photonics component specifications and product and/or system assembly.

Developments and Projects
The NLC is currently developing metal and polymer 3D printing machines, says NLC Photonics Prototyping Facility (PPF) principal investigator Dr Angela Dudley.

The PPF is a national facility that supports the commercialisation of photonic prototypes and facilitates photonic product development. It was established in 2016, but plans are underway to officially launch the facility during the 2018/19 financial year. The launch will showcase current and pipeline PPF projects, as well as the capabilities and strength of the PPF, she notes.

“Successful laser welding of various polymers will lead to polymer advanced manufacturing technologies not found anywhere else in the world, creating a distinct advantage for South Africa in the fast-growing industry,” Dudley enthuses.

Moreover, low-cost, small-scale metal additive manufacturing will provide various South African industries with rapid prototyping capabilities, leading to new technologies and products, as well as small, medium-sized and microenterprises opportunities, she adds.

The PPF currently has a pipeline of 11 projects ready to initiate. These projects include the development of infrared cameras; nano-second, ultra-compact lasers; customised high-power, mid-infrared laser systems; and compact, high-energy diode-pumped solid-state lasers.

The PPF has capacity for three to four projects in the facility, with a projected turnaround time of six to twelve months. Depending on project requirements, the PPF can accommodate six to eight projects in one to two years, Dudley notes.

The PPF aims to continue innovating over a broader scope of components and final products, Mudaly concludes.