‘Photonics - a trillion dollar industry within the next decade.’ This is the prediction of no less a body than the US-based Optoelectronics Industry Development Association. It is therefore no surprise that photonics is on the economic development agenda of all of the G7 nations, a testament to the crucial role it has played so far in the growth of the knowledge economy, and an expression of confidence that it will be a crucial driver in the continuing growth of the knowledge economy.
Thousands of photonics components are sold each week, the majority of which are plucked from standard offerings in brick-like catalogues. Such is the precision nature of the world of photonics, that inevitably there are some instances when a standard issue product will not perform the required function. To this end, many photonics distributors offer a custom assembly service, which can mean anything from constructing a laser system to the customer’s specification using standard components, through to developing and designing an entirely bespoke system using newly-created elements.
Recent developments in laser technology have made safety more important than ever before. Higher powers, greater intensities and a bigger range in the possible wavelengths of lasers mean that safety equipment has to provide stronger and more reliable protection, time after time.
Historically a conservative market,the laser industry is becoming volatile as new technologies throw previous perceptions about laser sources into disarray. Fibre and disc lasers are finding applications in industrial machining that would not have been possible a few years ago, and compact quantum cascade diode lasers are now providing high-power IR beams for military applications at a fraction of the cost of hefty CO2 lasers. Experts have predicted the demise of older technologies for years, but somehow they’ve yet to become extinct.
The automotive sector has always been a significant market for photonics, and the diversity of applications now in evidence suggests that this is likely to be the case for some time to come.
One of the more unusual applications involves the process of laser sintering, which enables fine and delicate objects to be created from highly complex and intricate designs.
In the early days of lasers, people were happy to buy a few pieces of equipment and bolt them together, hoping it would all work. But the laser business has grown up. The companies that use lasers, whether in their R&D or as part of a larger solution, want to be able to buy a working laser as easily as they can buy a working car.
They are spending a lot of money sometimes and don’t want to spend it with a company that is going to run out of money next month, leaving them high and dry without spares and consumables.