UNIVERSITY of Huddersfield scientist Dr Feng Gao has been awarded £93,668 for a research project to achieve new levels of efficiency and cost-saving for companies making advanced products using ultra-precise surfaces. This research will help to reduce the amount of material that is wasted due to imperfections.
Photovoltaic film – which can store solar energy – plus hard disks, optics, silicon wafers and a wide range of micro-engineered products will gain from Dr Gao's project, which has received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), under its First Grant Scheme, aimed at academics in the early stage of their careers.
Currently, Dr Gao explains, the measurement of nano-scale and ultra-precise surfaces is heavily dependent on the practical experience of process engineers backed up by an expensive trial-and-error approach. As a result, between 50 and 70 per cent of the items manufactured have to be scrapped because of imperfections.
There is a pressing need for an inspection process that can measure such products and correct defects with no interruption to production. Dr Gao's EPSRC-backed project will tackle the problem by investigating a high-speed, on-line surface profile optical measurement technique. It is based on white light spectral interferometry, a non-contact method for measuring surfaces, plus signal processing using a general purpose graphic processing unit.
These techniques can be combined to create a system for the mass production of products that include high-quality, high-efficiency photovoltaic thin film, meaning that solar power can be converted to electricity more effectively and cost-efficiently.
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