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Building on precision

John Murphy discovers the history of Fisba Optik, a Swiss company celebrating 50 years in photonics

Making a mark

The application of lasers in materials processing is finding markets beyond heavy industry, as William Payne discovers

The middle man

Distributors are commonplace now in photonics, so what do they offer engineers that the manufacturers can't? Warren Clark investigates

Training and customer service

Levels of support and training can mean as much to an engineer as the quality and capability of the product itself. Warren Clark discovers the range of training currently available for optical engineers, from product specific courses to more broad, industry-wide offerings.

The year ahead

Warren Clark talks to the leading names in the industry about what we can expect for photonics over the next 12 months

Size matters

David Robson finds that good things come in small packages

Solid and reliable

David Robson kicks off a new series of articles on the different types of laser with a focus on solid-state rod lasers

Time to face reality

Eugene Arthurs, executive director of SPIE, says that if you want scientists and engineers, you must reward them

The best of Opto

Warren Clark and David Robson review the best of the new products on offer at the recent Opto show in Paris

Feel the heat

Warren Clark rounds up the latest products available in the field of thermal imaging

Are trade fairs here to stay?

Roger Sherman, managing director of Pattern, which represents the Laser Munich show in the UK, says good planning can help you get the best from an exhibition

China – a land of opportunity

With its billion-plus population and rapid development, China is becoming both a major customer and supplier of photonics components, as Warren Clark discovers

In the past few years, China has been making its presence felt in just about every field from sport to politics. Now, industry is preparing itself for the great China surge, and photonics will be one of the areas at the heart of that surge.

China--a land of opportunity

With its billion-plus population and rapid development, China is becoming both a major customer and supplier of photonics components, as Warren Clark discovers

Smaller than ever

Exciting times lay ahead in the world of nanophotonics, according to Nick Morris

A year of growth

Glenn Barrowman reports on another successful year for Photonics Cluster (UK)

Poised for growth

Ken Ibbs, director of marketing at JDSU, believes the photonics industry is reaching a tipping point

Reach for the stars

Nick Morris finds photonics products are helping scientists better understand the universe around us

Although the basic optical theory and design of most telescopes deviates little from those used in the 17th century, the precision to which they can be built is orders of magnitude greater, driven primarily by continuous advance in precision optics and associated photonics products, produced by companies such as Optical Surfaces, which makes many components to be used in astronomical instruments, such as ultra precise mirrors, prisms and aspherical optics. Advances in optical design software from companies like Lambda Research give astronomers the tools with which to model their devices.

Lasers on board

Nick Morris traces photonic processes in the electronics manufacturing industry

In 1974 the Intel 8080 chip held a few thousand transistors, while the smallest feature on the chip was about 6µm across. Thirty years later, the latest Pentium processor holds more than 100 million transistors – the smallest component is almost 100 times smaller than on the 8080. Photonics materials processing has enabled these advances.

Electronics manufacturing process contains a number of steps, each of which has spawned its own supporting industry. Different manufacturers use different methods, and it would be impossible to discuss all possibilities and permutations. Instead, let us trace the process of semiconductor fabrication to see how photonics is being used at various steps.

Time to smarten up

Benno Oderkerk, technical director at Avantes, says it's time for photonics suppliers to make their devices more user-friendly

Photonics has always been about pushing the boundaries of light – whether it is focusing it, measuring it, or analysing it. Our combined knowledge and desire for constant advancement has focused our minds on making products that are better, faster, smaller and more powerful.

However, these advances in technology have not always been matched by improvements in usability. Some products may be able to achieve extraordinary results, but only after an engineer has been on several training courses and read the full 1,000-page manual.

 

An emerging major player

Israel has grown into a significant supplier within photonics, as Warren Clark discoversIsrael is a country that most people have heard of, but very few know much about. It makes the headlines, but rarely for its advances in photonics. For many, dealing with an Israeli company is never a consideration since the nation is dismissed as one blighted by unrest. The reality is that Israel has a thriving high-tech sector, and those that live and work there believe others would do well to see for themselves what the country can offer.

Good service leads to growth

John Murphy meets Mike Elliot, whose company Elliot Scientific has grown to be the largest UK-owned photonics distributor

Very few international companies can afford to have their own subsidiaries in every country. So, when most people want to buy something, they have to deal with a distributor. On the one hand these distributors can be seen as middle-men, taking a commission on sales – but their life is not so easy. If they do not give good service, sales will suffer and they will lose their distribution deal.

Fibre providers increase power

Nick Morris reviews the state of the burgeoning fibre laser industry

In recent years fibre lasers have begun to be talked about as a possible viable alternative to semiconductor and gas lasers. Fibre lasers hold a number of attractions. As well as very good beam quality the long, thin design geometry of a fibre laser means that a fibre laser is often smaller than its equivalent-powered semiconductor or gas laser.

Is Europe running fast enough?

The buzz today is about the rapid advancement of China and India in technology, not to mention manufacturing for China and software for India. The wisdom along with this buzz is that, over the next 20 years, the technological pre-eminence of the United States will be challenged by these rapidly advancing countries. The technological pre-eminence of the United States has brought us firms like Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo, Apple, Google, and many other large wealth-generating businesses. Where is Europe in all of this? Europe has set a target of spending three per cent of its GDP on research and development by 2010, with a goal to be the leader in technology. Is this real? Does the United States have to worry about losing its dominance to a united Europe? Do China or India have to worry that it will be Europe displacing the United States rather then Asia? You should answer those questions yourself. The table below shows Gross Domestic Product and percentage spent on R&D. All $ values are rounded to the nearest billion.

Photonics gets under the skin

Nick Morris takes the pulse of the medical photonics sector

Photonics and electro-optical products are being used for an ever-increasing variety of applications in the medical sector, from cutting-edge cancer research to cosmetic and beauty treatment. Laser materials processing techniques are bringing greater precision and hygiene levels to the manufacture of sterile medical equipment.

Photonics West preview

Photonics West preview

Photonics West 2006 takes place at the San Jose Convention Center, USA from 24-26 January. Here, we preview some of the highlights. The Photonics West show, organised by SPIE, is a highlight of the year for many in the industry. The accompanying technical programme, which runs from 21-26 January, features more than 2,800 papers, and a separate Biomedical Optics exhibition takes place from 21-22 January. More than 1,000 exhibitors will be displaying their latest product launches during the course of the show, and it's also an excellent opportunity to network, with many evening events accompanying the main exhibition. More than 13,000 visitors are expected to attend.

Back on the way up

SPI Lasers has emerged from the telecoms crash leaner and fitter, discovers John Murphy

There are so many photonics dreams lying in the soot and ashes of the Great Telecom Bubble that you could almost write a song about it. It might not top the charts, but it would attract a cult following among investors and entrepreneurs sitting washed-up and friendless in the corners of seedy bars in San Jose. Some companies did come through, usually because they had a solid business outside telecoms, or they had raised so much capital that they did not have time to spend it all.

Europe's centre of photonics?

Germany has always been at the forefront of many manufacturing disciplines, and photonics is no exception. Dr Bernd Weidner and Joachim Giesekus explain why

Be it Abbe's theory of microscope image formation, which led to fundamental improved microscopes in 1871, or the Nobel Prize-winning development of laser-based precision spectroscopy by the German physicist Haensch in 2005, the German photonics industry is characterised by a high level of innovation and quality. As a result, Germany can certainly claim to be Europe's leading nation in photonics.

More than fibres and eyeglasses

Michael Stevenson, director of marketing, Breault Research Organisation, says the optics industry has much to be proud of

As insiders, we understand the broad applications of optical technologies, the multi-disciplinary research approach that fosters innovation, and the industry intersections where new products in disparate fields are enabled by optical technologies. But if you think industry outsiders share this perspective with us, think again.

Ask a passerby to tell you what optical engineers do and you will invariably hear all about 'fibres and eyeglasses'. Ask a venture capitalist and you will either hear a screed on the meltdown of the telecommunications industry, or witness a sly grin form on the face of somebody who went short.

Enabling automotive manufacture

Photonics pervades motor manufacturing, as Nick Morris discovers

Automotive engineers are always on the look-out for new production methods that will shorten the time taken to produce a vehicle, at both the design and manufacturing stages. New optical components, such as LEDs, are being used for applications ranging from headlights to lighting driver instrument readouts, such as speedometers and radios. Laser materials processing is cutting the time it takes to form and weld sheet metal used for coachwork.

Where support helps sales

From its early days as a bedroom-based optical components shop, Optima Research has come a long way. John Murphy tells the story

Few companies that sell accounting software have to teach their customers to do accounts. When it comes to optical design software, however, the situation is very different. Before people can really get the most out of it, they have to know about optics.

Optima Research has made a business from training people to use the popular Zemax design software. This started with technical support, and moved on to encompass detailed courses on driving the package and getting the most out of it. But, in recent years, there has been an explosion in demand for more fundamental training in optics.

Future applications of the laser

What next for the product once famously described as a solution in search of a problem? Warren Clark hears the views of leading industry figures

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