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Case study: Photonics’ vital role in modern manufacturing processes

Abstract Cogs background

Photonics technology plays a vital role in modern manufacturing processes, revolutionising various industries by enabling faster, more precise, and efficient production. 

Photonics involves the generation, manipulation, and detection of light and its properties. It has been used in manufacturing processes for several decades, but gained significant momentum during the late 20th century. Its integration into manufacturing processes has led to significant advancements. But how is photonics technology utilised in manufacturing, and what is its impact across the various sectors in which it is used?

Photonics technology finds applications in several aspects of manufacturing, including imaging, sensing, communication, and materials processing. In terms of imaging, photonics-based cameras, and sensors are widely used for quality control, inspection, and metrology. 

Defect detection

High-resolution cameras and advanced imaging techniques allow manufacturers to detect defects, measure dimensions, and ensure product quality during various stages of production. These imaging systems quickly identify flaws, scratches, or imperfections that may be invisible to the human eye, leading to improved product reliability. For example, to optimise the food sorting inspection process, different high-speed imaging devices can be placed at strategic locations on the conveyor belt. When fruits travel down the conveyor belt, they can be scanned using InGaAs and CMOS cameras. The InGaAs camera will show defects beginning to form under the skin that a human eye cannot see (using infrared technology) while the CMOS camera will show visible defects. All defects detected will help filter out produce that should not reach the store.

Optical sensors based on light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology are used for precise measurements, object detection, and monitoring. Although it is often associated with autonomous driving, there exist a variety of applications. Quickly revolutionising the industry, LiDAR systems utilise laser light to accurately measure distances, map surroundings, and detect objects. They are extensively used in robotics (e.g. moving objects), automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and intelligent manufacturing systems for real-time feedback and control. By integrating LiDAR sensors into manufacturing processes, companies enhance safety, optimise workflows, and achieve higher productivity.

The rise of laser technology

Laser technology has also brought significant advancements to material processing. Laser-based systems are extensively used for cutting, welding, marking, and surface treatment of various materials. Lasers provide a high-energy, focused beam of light that can accurately and precisely process materials, resulting in enhanced productivity and improved product quality. 

Laser cutting machines, for example, offer high-speed, contactless cutting of metals, plastics, and textiles, enabling complex and intricate designs with minimal material wastage. Laser welding provides a fast, efficient, and non-contact method for joining materials, while laser marking offers permanent and high-resolution product labelling and branding.

Increasingly common, 3D printing utilises lasers and other light sources to selectively cure or melt materials layer by layer, creating complex three-dimensional objects. 

Photonics-based 3D printing enables the production of highly customised parts, rapid prototyping, and even the manufacturing of complex geometries that are difficult or impossible to produce with traditional methods. This technology has revolutionised various industries, including aerospace, automotive, and healthcare, by reducing production time, enabling cost-effective small-batch production, and fostering design innovation.

The era of communication

Finally, efficient communication and data transfer is also crucial to the manufacturing environments. Fibre-optic communication systems are widely adopted for high-speed, long-distance data transmission between machines, control systems, and remote monitoring stations. 

Fibre-optic cables, composed of thin strands of glass or plastic, enable the transmission of light signals carrying large amounts of data thanks to integrated transmitters and receivers. Transmitter and receiver photo ICs, for example, support a wide variety of transmission speeds over a long distance at high-speed. This ensures reliable and secure communication, minimising latency and electromagnetic interference. The ability to transmit data rapidly and without loss makes fibre optics a critical component of modern manufacturing infrastructure. Additionally, new developments in quantum optical communication can provide secure and encrypted communication with the use of low-noise, high-quality, and high-efficiency single photon emitters, and detectors.

In summary, photonics technology has had a profound impact on manufacturing processes across multiple industries. Hamamatsu Photonics’ extensive portfolio of component, module, and system solutions provides innovative, high-quality, and high-performance solutions to the manufacturing industry. We will continue to utilise our expertise and 70 years of knowledge to advance photonics technology, to support further transformations in manufacturing processes, leading to increased productivity, reduced costs, and improved product performance. 

Further information

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