Market theory postulates that, where there is a perceived customer requirement, then research and development will be directed to provide a solution to that particular problem; it is this, then, that is the driver for new technology. A modern example of this is the development, over the past 10 years, of miniature, low-cost CCD and CMOS image sensors, now a common accessory with most mobile phones. Today this is the major volume application for all image sensing devices.
Lasers are tricky things to test. Not only does a user need to make sure the right amount of energy and the correct sort of beam is produced, but the laser’s application – be that manufacturing, research or clinical – can also have an impact on how it is tested.
Forecasting which parts of the market may fare better than others is almost impossible to achieve with any accuracy, but there are some technologies, application areas and geographical markets that are showing signs of being ‘ones to watch’.
For several months, now, all the talk has been about the emergence of fibre lasers. ‘It’s the most exciting technology around at the moment,’ says Jack Gabzdyl, product line manager at SPI Lasers. ‘It’s more efficient, more versatile and more controllable.’
Design freedom is a wonderful thing for parts manufacturers and end users alike. If you want to produce and test a highly complex, fullyformed, bespoke part – and if you have a 3D CAD model of it – then, within reason, it can be done. Laser sintering, an additive manufacturing technique that builds up a 3D structure by selectively fusing layers of powdered material with a laser, is paving the way for producing part geometries that, using traditional manufacturing methods – turning, drilling, milling, for example – would just not be possible.
Just at the moment, the coolest, sexiest laptop on the market is the Apple MacBook Air. Its key selling points include just how thin and light it is, the clarity of its display, and its long battery operation. All are the result of Apple’s choice of LEDs for backlighting the display instead of more conventional, bulkier and power-hungry CCFL technologies.
The Air epitomises the increasing status of LEDs as a technology for cutting edge, energyefficient and eco-friendly illumination, whether in displays, machine vision, advertising or industrial applications.
In the past 20 years manufacturing companies have found that if they do not move their production to the Far East then someone already there will take their market away. For volume production you cannot beat countries with a low cost of living, and where the educational and technical standards are not as far behind Europe as they used to be.