Professor David Walker, Research Director, Zeeko Ltd.
“This facility here is the national facility for ultra-precision surfaces within the OpTic building in St Asaph, North Wales. Optic and the national facility are now operated by Glyndwr University - which itself is based in Wrexham - in collaboration with University College London and with a number of companies including Zeeko Ltd.
“What we’re aiming to do is to be able to create very precise mirrors and lenses to a higher quality in less time and less cost than our competitors worldwide. So the work we are doing is world class, and in some respects, ahead of anywhere else. The big project that we have here in this building in North Wales today is the production of prototype mirror segments for what will be the world’s largest telescope - the 39 meter European Extremely Large Telescope. Now we are producing one and a half meter prototype segments today, and have made some real breakthroughs in the last few months.
“The problem that we have is when we work on large surfaces, the amount of data that we have to handle in analysing the test results and computing the path of the tool is really beyond the limit of desktop computers. The surfaces of these mirror segments need to be accurate to something like 10 nanometres. That corresponds to about 100 atoms over the surface of a component that is a metre and a half across. Now to put that into perspective, it’s equivalent approximately to a tennis ball on the size of the United States of America.
“If I went out today to tender for one of these mirror segments worldwide, I would probably be quoted nine to fifteen months’ delivery time. Now this telescope project needs a thousand in six or seven years, so we need a whole new way of thinking about how we manufacture these types of components. High performance computing is a critical part of that thinking about speeding up by orders of magnitude.
“HPC Wales has first of all made available to us a slice of computational resource on their facility. We now have our scientists using that slice to start the process of developing the algorithms which will turn around the processes that we are developing. Previously we had no experience of high performance computing, and so again what this has done is opened our eyes to what can be done in the future.
“What we hope to achieve through HPC Wales is very simple; it is better, faster at lower cost - manufacturing of ultra-precise surfaces.”
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