Features

01 May 2006

With several vibrant clusters up and running, Canada has its own identity - and nowhere more so than in the photonics industry, as Warren Clark discovers

Photonics in Canada is a significant market, with more than 350 members of the Canadian Photonics Consortium (CPC) alone. The industry there is built on a foundation of strong research. The country's National Research Council leads this research, having backed efforts in WDM technology and short pulse duration lasers, as well as collaborating in the production of the world's first attosecond laser pulse. Indeed, Canada put itself on the photonics map when, in 1992, researchers at the Communications Research Centre Canada (CRC) invented the fibre Bragg grating, which has become a key component in today's optical networks.

01 May 2006

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.

01 May 2006

Technology is in a constant war against obsolescence. Fall behind the curve of emerging applications, and you will quickly find your business scrambling for the under-funded, leftover customers. Once the cutting edge is lost, it is hard to recapture. Morale will drop, your business will wane and profitability will falter. Though simply stated, it is difficult to avoid this pitfall as you concentrate on filling today's needs. Scientific tools need a constant influx of product definition and technology development activities to keep pace with maturing markets and ahead of developing ones. Often this reinvigoration comes from an innovative combination of existing and sometimes disparate technologies. An example of this can be seen in how optical profiler manufacturers are serving the still rapidly growing microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) metrology market.

01 May 2006

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.

01 May 2006

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.

01 March 2006

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.

01 March 2006

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.

01 March 2006

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.

01 March 2006

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.

 

01 March 2006

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.

01 January 2006

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.

01 January 2006

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.

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