How fortunate we are! We're involved in a dynamic industry in which technical breakthroughs are commonplace and many of us have the pleasure of working on projects or with customers that truly are changing the world. But to me, as amazing as that is, I’m worried that the unique heritage of our industry is fading away.
If one thing is certain, it's that laser technology is developing at an astonishingly fast rate. ‘It’s a dynamic field; the properties of lasers are changing,’ says Peter Leibinger, president of Trumpf’s laser division. Bill Shiner, vice president of industrial products at IPG, agrees: ‘Lasers used to be seen as a necessary evil for manufacturing; now they are the preferred method.’
Many technologies have made the transition from isolated use in the scientific laboratory to general acceptance in industry and the wider world.
Computing in general, and the internet specifically, are the most obvious examples, but it is also evident in more obscure laboratory equipment. A recent example is the advent of portable spectrometers, which have already found extensive applications in viticulture to test the ripeness of grapes and the rate of fermentation of wine.
In the past year alone, researchers working on key scientific questions have used lasers to make major breakthroughs. These questions include: how did life originate on earth; where do cosmic rays come from; how fast are the polar ice caps melting; and is there life on Mars?
It sounds like the content of a sci-fi novel: high-quality displays printed on thin, flexible materials could allow moving pictures on the pages of a book, animated food packaging and home cinema screens papered to your walls. And in the realm of 3D display, researchers can now ‘immerse’ themselves in the Sun’s corona to study the shape and size of solar flares, and engineers can enter a virtual car before a prototype has even been built.
Photonics is a new and exciting field. This means every new company in the field has to have a modern and exciting name. Usually they sound like the names of characters in children’s TV sci-fi fantasy shows.