Transcript for Manufacturing the Future Conference 2015 - Interview with Professor Sir David Payne

Manufacturing the Future - Professor David Payne

I’m Sir David Payne, Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton.

Photonics is an enabling technology. It navigates airlines, it actually assembles airlines, it cuts the metal, and it manufactures your iPhone. As well as that, it’s even found on the moon, on the space station, and on Mars. So it’s an underlying technology. Perhaps the best known application is that it powers the entire internet. Millions of kilometres, across the world. Every time you use your phone, the underpinning technology under the ground is this vast network of fibres keeping the communications of the world working.

It’s an enormously important industry, worth about £10 billion in the UK and employing something like 70,000 people.

Because of the broad nature of photonics, we’ve worked with an extraordinary range of companies that go all of the way from people that are nothing to do with photonics but just want fibres, to people at the other end who are making ultra-high-power lasers for cutting and welding.

So the work that we’ve done with SPI Lasers, which is a start-up from Southampton, also with Fianium to develop new fibres which are better and which give them an edge in the market place because they are more efficient, more effective, they’re more reliable and that’s what we’re showing here - some of those fibres that are making a difference.

I would like to add one thing, which is that working with industry is only part of the purpose of an EPSRC Centre in Manufacturing. The other part of it is about developing the next technology that industry doesn’t yet know it needs and that’s particularly our role.

What we have on demonstration here is some of the very latest films of graphene, lithium disulfide and boron nitrite. Which we have learned that we can now make in huge sizes, not just the little tiny chips that originally people were making. So there’s some examples of what we’re doing for industry.

One of the things that we’re supposed to be doing is making things faster, better, cheaper. Or finding out how to make things that are coming out of university labs, which makes them useful in industry.

So the breakthrough that we’ve just made is we came up with an idea that you could make an optical fibre with a hole in the middle, so that it became much lower loss because the light travels in air instead of glass. The problem was, nobody knew how to make this and we’ve worked for nearly five years until we made the breakthrough.  We reported that just a month ago, that we could make vast long lengths of this new fibre and it’s gone viral worldwide. People are suddenly saying “Wow, they really can make it those crazy Brits.”