Next-gen lasers cut to the heart of manufacturing

Light touch: Stony Brook University's new Center for Laser Manufacturing will focus on changing the molecular makeup of manufacturing materials, among other things.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Fire all lasers! But not just for cutting – Stony Brook University is warming up new tech that uses energy beams to both shape materials and alter their molecular states, a next-level manufacturing breakthrough.

Welcome to the new Center for Laser Manufacturing, which aims open this fall inside SBU’s long-awaited Innovation and Discovery Center, a state-funded $60 million jewel for Stony Brook’s commercialization crown.

Alongside the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology, the Advanced Energy Research & Technology Center, the Long Island High Technology Incubator and other SBU programs and facilities dedicated to next-generation scientific pursuits, the CLM will take high-intensity light beams beyond precision carving, using lasers to actually change a material’s physical properties.

This, obviously, is an intriguing prospect in manufacturing, where lasers are “mostly used for cutting,” according to Alexander Orlov, an associate professor in SBU’s Materials Science & Chemical Engineering Department.

Alexander Orlov: Molecule man.

“If you have a piece of glass or metal, lasers can cut it to a particular shape,” said Orlov, who manages a NanoEnergy Technology Laboratory inside the AERTC – knee deep in nanostructures and catalytic materials for novel energy applications – and is the founder of two Stony Brook-based companies: Fluxion Technology, a 2017 startup focused on new battery performance and safety designs, and SuperClean Glass, a 2019 startup that uses patent-pending electric-field technology to clean solar panels, improving their efficiency.

“[Laser-cutting] has been around for a bit,” Orlov added. “But the new area for manufacturing is taking a laser and, instead of destroying material, modifying it.

“You install new electrical, optical and mechanical properties.”

Hence the new CLM, which earmarks $1.5 million in New York State funds for space and tools dedicated to collaborating with industry – more specifically, to solving some of modern manufacturing’s most vexing problems.

The center will bring to bear a cutting-edge array of laser devices, including optical instruments donated by IPG Photonics, a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of high-performance fiber lasers and amplifiers for diverse industrial applications.

David Hwang: Photovoltaic finish.

“It’s a new chapter for manufacturing initiatives at Stony Brook,” said Orlov, who teamed with David Hwang, head of the AERTC’s Laser Solar Photovoltaic Laboratory, to secure funding for the new laser lab.

Hwang was the perfect laser-center tag-team partner for Orlov, whose groundbreaking AERTC-based research into the development of novel materials for renewable-energy applications has earned more than $4.5 million in state and federal grants.

“My area is materials science, where we’re characterizing the properties and structures and trying to understand how lasers can improve those properties,” Orlov noted, while Hwang – an associate professor in SBU’s Mechanical Engineering Department – is a whiz with laser-assisted processing and diagnostics across a wide range of applications, ricocheting from nanoscale manufacturing to laser scribing to three-dimensional hybrid opto-fluidic device fabrication for biological applications (and such).

With the laser-focused professors at the helm, the CLM should be “ready to be occupied” by the fall, according to Orlov, and will be an integral part of an IDC stacked with private companies and faculty-directed laboratories.

“The idea for this center is to capture some of the innovation happening at the university and elsewhere,” Orlov said. “And to help different companies solve their manufacturing problems.”