Following several years of strong industry-wide growth, the laser-based materials processing market fell off a cliff at the end of 2008 as sales dropped 30 per cent or more. In hindsight, we can clearly see how cheap and available credit fuelled both consumer demand and business investment, just as its absence led to a substantial contraction. Today, when asked about the materials processing demand cycle, the opinions of colleagues, customers and competitors range from ‘it’s not getting any worse’ to ‘things have stabilised’ to ‘we’re seeing a modest recovery’.
December 2009/January 2010
When an industrial player is choosing any tool for an application, the equipment that will do the best job at the lowest cost is always going to win out. At lower power levels, used when cutting fine detail or welding in thin material, or when the use of an optical fibre delivery is appropriate (eg car production lines), the best option has traditionally been a solid state laser based on Nd:YAG crystals or something similar. At higher powers, the cost per watt favours carbon dioxide (CO2) laser.
While optics can be used to manipulate light in a variety of different ways, whether that’s through a lens, a mirror, beam splitters or filters, what sharpens the optical properties of these components are their coatings. Coatings are applied to virtually every optical device and are essentially used to control light. They are used in numerous applications, from barcode scanners, which have anti-reflection coatings as well as wear-resistant coatings, to cell phone cameras, to optics used in high-power laser systems.
In an age of global warming and declining fossil fuel supplies, one of the technological hopes for the future security of our energy supplies lies with solar power. Nanophotonics – the application of photonics technologies at the nanometre level – is one route to reducing the costs of manufacturing conventional silicon-based photovoltaic solar cells.
2009 was the toughest year photonics has experienced since the telecoms crash at the turn of the millennium. This time, though, the exposure was firmly in the industrial sector, which has so long been the area in which photonics was thought to have the most potential.
At the time of writing, the economy appeared to be in a fragile state of recovery, though the pace and stability of any upturn was still very much open to debate. So, what does this mean for the photonics industry?
Though NKT Photonics A/S, in name at least, was only created earlier this year, its roots can be traced back over several decades. The NKT part of the name originates from the parent company, NKT Holding A/S, which began life in 1891, with its first order being for telephone cable. The name NKT derives from the limited company that was formed in 1898, Nordiske Kabel og Tradfabriker (literally, Nordic Cable and Tread Factories).