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.
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.
SPI Lasers has emerged from the telecoms crash leaner and fitter, discovers John Murphy
There are so many photonics dreams lying in the soot and ashes of the Great Telecom Bubble that you could almost write a song about it. It might not top the charts, but it would attract a cult following among investors and entrepreneurs sitting washed-up and friendless in the corners of seedy bars in San Jose. Some companies did come through, usually because they had a solid business outside telecoms, or they had raised so much capital that they did not have time to spend it all.
Photonics pervades motor manufacturing, as Nick Morris discovers
Automotive engineers are always on the look-out for new production methods that will shorten the time taken to produce a vehicle, at both the design and manufacturing stages. New optical components, such as LEDs, are being used for applications ranging from headlights to lighting driver instrument readouts, such as speedometers and radios. Laser materials processing is cutting the time it takes to form and weld sheet metal used for coachwork.
Michael Stevenson, director of marketing, Breault Research Organisation, says the optics industry has much to be proud of
As insiders, we understand the broad applications of optical technologies, the multi-disciplinary research approach that fosters innovation, and the industry intersections where new products in disparate fields are enabled by optical technologies. But if you think industry outsiders share this perspective with us, think again.
Ask a passerby to tell you what optical engineers do and you will invariably hear all about 'fibres and eyeglasses'. Ask a venture capitalist and you will either hear a screed on the meltdown of the telecommunications industry, or witness a sly grin form on the face of somebody who went short.
From its early days as a bedroom-based optical components shop, Optima Research has come a long way. John Murphy tells the story
Few companies that sell accounting software have to teach their customers to do accounts. When it comes to optical design software, however, the situation is very different. Before people can really get the most out of it, they have to know about optics.
Optima Research has made a business from training people to use the popular Zemax design software. This started with technical support, and moved on to encompass detailed courses on driving the package and getting the most out of it. But, in recent years, there has been an explosion in demand for more fundamental training in optics.
Germany has always been at the forefront of many manufacturing disciplines, and photonics is no exception. Dr Bernd Weidner and Joachim Giesekus explain why
Be it Abbe's theory of microscope image formation, which led to fundamental improved microscopes in 1871, or the Nobel Prize-winning development of laser-based precision spectroscopy by the German physicist Haensch in 2005, the German photonics industry is characterised by a high level of innovation and quality. As a result, Germany can certainly claim to be Europe's leading nation in photonics.
What next for the product once famously described as a solution in search of a problem? Warren Clark hears the views of leading industry figures
When Ophir Optronics was formed in 1976 its founders forecast a turnover of US$30 million in 25 years. Their strategic vision has been realised, with further steady growth predicted for the future, writes Tim Gillett
Despite having blue-chip clients including the US military and Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Ophir Optronics' managing director Yoram Shalev says its greatest strength lies in its human resources. He tells Electro Optics: 'From the outset, we have always been a people company. Despite the fact that we are involved in state-of-the-art processes, we retain old-fashioned values when it comes to our staff - treat them well and keep them happy, as they represent the future success of the company.'
The worldwide optoelectronics marketplace offers industry players a number of viable approaches for generating and sustaining attractive, profitable growth. Technology differentiation is generally a critical element in all of these approaches. The various approaches, however, seek to achieve technology differentiation in fundamentally different ways. Experience shows that all of the approaches can be successful, given the right conditions and sound technology and market strategies. Introduction of fundamentally new, breakthrough technologies is one particular innovation path, and is often the primary focus of corporate strategic plans. This approach aims to generate significant differentiation, and is typically associated with substantial, multi-year R&D and manufacturing investments.
A high-profile use of lasers in modern life is that of printing and graphics, as Peter Rees discovers
In printing, lasers are everywhere from the home to the largest industrial presses. It is a technically diverse sector with lasers of several types finding favour with equipment manufacturers and users. Perhaps this isn't surprising, given the different types of printing in use - lithography, flexography, gravure - and the fragmented nature of the industry.
There are tens of thousands of commercial printing companies worldwide - the US alone has around 35,000 firms - and most are small or medium-sized. The result is that change - at least across the whole industry - comes slowly. Paradoxically perhaps, printing technology is changing rapidly as it becomes increasingly computerised and automated. Fully digital presses - see panel - cannot yet match the overall product quality of traditional offset printing, in which ink is spread on a metal plate holding an image, transferred first to a rubber blanket and then to paper.