Nick Morris surveys the national and international security markets
Twenty years after President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative – nicknamed 'star wars' – failed to move beyond the concept phase of development, there has been some suspicion of using lasers, or other high tech devices, for defence and security applications. However, those in the defence establishment are now taking the huge possibilities that photonics offers seriously again; from lasers mounted in airplanes for the new anti-ballistic missile system, through to optical fibre microphones for submarines.
John Murphy discovers how Active Silicon is ploughing its own furrow in a specialist niche
Every technologist dreams of founding their own company. Some dream of becoming the Microsoft of their industrial sector and they hope that no matter how big the company gets, they will be the exception and be able to always work on something technically interesting.
The sad truth is that most technology companies have to become sales companies to make a living. They can only grow by hoping to come up with something that will compete with the big boys and that seldom has anything to do with technology.
Nick Morris gets up close with this intricate application of lasers
Laser micromachining is fast becoming a routine method of fabricating mass produced parts, as well as manufacturing intricately designed components for specialised applications. Laser micromachining is now commonplace in the component manufacturing sector, supplying industries that demand very high precision – such as aerospace, automotive, biomedical, and electronics industries, to name but a few. Lasers can be used for a variety of processes to produce feature sizes in the 1-500µm range, with submicron accuracy.
Nick Morris finds photonics products are helping scientists better understand the universe around us
Although the basic optical theory and design of most telescopes deviates little from those used in the 17th century, the precision to which they can be built is orders of magnitude greater, driven primarily by continuous advance in precision optics and associated photonics products, produced by companies such as Optical Surfaces, which makes many components to be used in astronomical instruments, such as ultra precise mirrors, prisms and aspherical optics. Advances in optical design software from companies like Lambda Research give astronomers the tools with which to model their devices.
Nick Morris traces photonic processes in the electronics manufacturing industry
In 1974 the Intel 8080 chip held a few thousand transistors, while the smallest feature on the chip was about 6µm across. Thirty years later, the latest Pentium processor holds more than 100 million transistors – the smallest component is almost 100 times smaller than on the 8080. Photonics materials processing has enabled these advances.
Electronics manufacturing process contains a number of steps, each of which has spawned its own supporting industry. Different manufacturers use different methods, and it would be impossible to discuss all possibilities and permutations. Instead, let us trace the process of semiconductor fabrication to see how photonics is being used at various steps.
Benno Oderkerk, technical director at Avantes, says it's time for photonics suppliers to make their devices more user-friendly
Photonics has always been about pushing the boundaries of light – whether it is focusing it, measuring it, or analysing it. Our combined knowledge and desire for constant advancement has focused our minds on making products that are better, faster, smaller and more powerful.
However, these advances in technology have not always been matched by improvements in usability. Some products may be able to achieve extraordinary results, but only after an engineer has been on several training courses and read the full 1,000-page manual.
Israel has grown into a significant supplier within photonics, as Warren Clark discoversIsrael is a country that most people have heard of, but very few know much about. It makes the headlines, but rarely for its advances in photonics. For many, dealing with an Israeli company is never a consideration since the nation is dismissed as one blighted by unrest. The reality is that Israel has a thriving high-tech sector, and those that live and work there believe others would do well to see for themselves what the country can offer.
John Murphy meets Mike Elliot, whose company Elliot Scientific has grown to be the largest UK-owned photonics distributor
Very few international companies can afford to have their own subsidiaries in every country. So, when most people want to buy something, they have to deal with a distributor. On the one hand these distributors can be seen as middle-men, taking a commission on sales – but their life is not so easy. If they do not give good service, sales will suffer and they will lose their distribution deal.
Nick Morris reviews the state of the burgeoning fibre laser industry
In recent years fibre lasers have begun to be talked about as a possible viable alternative to semiconductor and gas lasers. Fibre lasers hold a number of attractions. As well as very good beam quality the long, thin design geometry of a fibre laser means that a fibre laser is often smaller than its equivalent-powered semiconductor or gas laser.
The buzz today is about the rapid advancement of China and India in technology, not to mention manufacturing for China and software for India. The wisdom along with this buzz is that, over the next 20 years, the technological pre-eminence of the United States will be challenged by these rapidly advancing countries. The technological pre-eminence of the United States has brought us firms like Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo, Apple, Google, and many other large wealth-generating businesses. Where is Europe in all of this? Europe has set a target of spending three per cent of its GDP on research and development by 2010, with a goal to be the leader in technology. Is this real? Does the United States have to worry about losing its dominance to a united Europe? Do China or India have to worry that it will be Europe displacing the United States rather then Asia? You should answer those questions yourself. The table below shows Gross Domestic Product and percentage spent on R&D. All $ values are rounded to the nearest billion.
Nick Morris takes the pulse of the medical photonics sector
Photonics and electro-optical products are being used for an ever-increasing variety of applications in the medical sector, from cutting-edge cancer research to cosmetic and beauty treatment. Laser materials processing techniques are bringing greater precision and hygiene levels to the manufacture of sterile medical equipment.
Photonics West preview
Photonics West 2006 takes place at the San Jose Convention Center, USA from 24-26 January. Here, we preview some of the highlights. The Photonics West show, organised by SPIE, is a highlight of the year for many in the industry. The accompanying technical programme, which runs from 21-26 January, features more than 2,800 papers, and a separate Biomedical Optics exhibition takes place from 21-22 January. More than 1,000 exhibitors will be displaying their latest product launches during the course of the show, and it's also an excellent opportunity to network, with many evening events accompanying the main exhibition. More than 13,000 visitors are expected to attend.