The laser industry is starting a slow process of evolution, from a collection of small specialised companies offering niche products to a mature industry led by a few large players. As the industry becomes mature, it is becoming volume-driven and photonic integration is one aspect seen as vital in reducing costs. However, it is also an industry where standards are slow to emerge, so any integration technology is presented with considerable challenges.
In the famous novel King Solomon’s Mines Ophir is a mythical land from which the eponymous King obtained much of his wealth. In the optics world today the name Ophir is also the source of great wealth, but in the form of advanced optics and laser measurement – more valuable than gold in many circles.
Lasers are becoming more powerful, and their applications more precise. At one end, jet engine manufacturers are increasingly using fine, high-energy beams to weld exotic metals, and it is difficult to escape the delicate lettering of laser engraving, used to mark anything from children’s toys to surgical equipment.
The temperature of a laser system can determine its lifetime, performance and safety. Many systems simply burn out if they are too hot for too long. Thermal lensing damages the beam shape of most solid-state lasers, and the output wavelength of laser diodes closely depends on their temperature.
From quiet beginnings, back-lighting calculators and mobile phones, LEDs are poised to become a pervasive technology, staking a claim across a whole number of applications including lighting, medicine, test and measurement, next-generation telecommunications, smart food and medicines labelling, and television.
LEDs could even help reshape our homes, displacing the clutter of devices and wires, like televisions, computers, hi-fi, phones, and replacing them with low-cost, low-power devices that merge unobtrusively into the walls when not required.
It is notoriously difficult to predict what might be the ‘next big thing’ – if it were that easy, we’d all be rich from stock market speculation. Within the photonics industry, though, there are always signs that certain parts of the market may be growing faster than others. It may be that certain parts of the world have switched on to the benefits of employing photonics, or that a particular technology sector has advanced to such a degree that its products become very attractive.
Laser 2007, World of Photonics, takes place from 18-21 June in Munich. It will highlight the latest trends in photonics, the newest developments for this key technology and the way it is being employed in industry. The theme this year is ‘light at work’, which will bring together products and applications from around the world. Two years ago, the event attracted more than 1,000 exhibitors and more than 23,000 attendees.