Transcript for Manufacturing the Future Conference 2015 - Interview with Professor Bill O'Neill

Manufacturing the Future Conference 2015 interview with Professor Bill O’Neill

My name is Bill O’Neill.  I am Deputy Director of the Centre for Ultra Precision and I work at the University of Cambridge. 

Ultra-precision is a field of engineering which develops the level of machining and process capability, which is an order of magnitude below current manufacturing capabilities in conventional engineering and production.  It’s very important for UK engineering to be able to develop toolsets and apply manufacturing tools which enable them to create the next generation of products.  These products require an ultra-precision level of tolerance and control.

The capabilities for one of the machines - we have two three platforms on a laser focused ion beam system that allows us to machine materials down to resolutions of ten nanometres.  This allows for a new wave of biological sensors to be made.  It works at a scale which is approaching quantum technologies and it really does give you a capability which far and away exceeds that of current semiconductor capabilities.  So it’s a manufacturing toolset which allows new products at those length scales. 

We have a MISO production capability which is a compact micromachining system which is ultra-precise because it works at a micron in it, within a few centimetres, and that gives us the opportunity to have far better mechanical machining.  We have a roll to roll platform which allows us to make printed electronic components working with resolutions of one micron over a metre and that allows for us to design and develop new production capabilities for the next generation of electronic displays, biological sensors and a whole host of other technologies which are in preparation, getting ready for high volume, low value, but extremely functional capability with polymers and other materials.

In many respects we have lost the British machine tool supply chain or the supply chain necessary to allow companies to construct advanced machine tools.  Cranfield University has a very long established level of the precision engineering and Cambridge University has a very long level of application in new devices and new processes.  By establishing this research through EPSRC funding we are able to identify key suppliers within the UK, we designed the systems, we work with our supplying collaborators to allow us to produce a brand new and revolutionary state of production technology.  That strengthens the supply chain and really allows them to develop a market in conjunction with us, so the supply chain strengthening is probably one of the most important outputs of this centre. 

We have to be able to produce machines, if you produce machines you own the means of production and you can create much greater value from something that you sell.