Optical engineers have long used software to help design both optical components and systems. The advantages are well-known, and the ability to simulate the effects of minute adjustments in an optical design, without having to reconstruct it each time, saves thousands of man hours.
While the CO2 laser is still considered the workhorse of the industry when it comes to materials processing, there has been much jostling and vying for attention from the other classes of laser in this field. Writing in the previous issue of Electro Optics, John Ambroseo, CEO of Coherent, argues that the diode laser is one technology that’s set to close the total ‘cost of ownership’ gap in materials processing between laser-based solutions and machine tools.
In January, the USA National Nuclear Security Administration announced that the National Ignition Facility (NIF), at the USA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, had successfully delivered a pulse of a laser radiation with an unprecedented energy of one megajoule. The facility is built around the largest laser in the world, with a designed pulse energy capability of up to 1.8 megajoules.
A large part of the electronics industry looks at making smaller, lighter, and cheaper devices; applications which may once have required a room full of equipment can now be undertaken by a device that fits into a hand or a pocket, and that can be carried around all day. Portability of electronic devices requires them to be sturdy, battery powered, and reasonably compact. In the public eye, these developments are centred on consumer electronics, such as phones and music players, but photonics has benefitted from the same miniaturisation revolution in the form of spectrometers.
When the industrial sector for photonics stepped off a cliff at the beginning of 2009, the military and defence sector, along with the medical sector, was a saving grace for many photonics companies. Were it not for government funding of defence projects, many photonics companies may not have made it through the recession.
The opportunities for photonics companies within military and defence include applications such as imaging and target designation, through to the more ‘science fiction’ excitement of ‘directed energy’ – lasers as weapons themselves.
Laser Components, which now comprises several companies worldwide, began life in 1982 near Munich, Germany. Günther Paul was a photonics engineer with an entrepreneurial streak, at a time when the likes of CVI and Melles Griot were beginning to make major progress as suppliers of optical components. Laser Components GmbH, as his venture was known, started out as a distributor, but it was only a matter of a few years later when Paul began moving into manufacturing.