February/March 2006

Good service leads to growth

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.

An emerging major player

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.

Time to smarten up

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.


Lasers on board

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.

Reach for the stars

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.

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