Military and sensing applications highlighted as growth sector for mid-IR lasers

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Advancements in several laser technologies are opening up opportunities in the mid-infrared wavelength range, according to the findings of a new report, Mid-Infrared Lasers 2010, from Strategies Unlimited, a company specialising in market research in the photonics industry.

The report concluded that military and sensing applications will add sizeable and exciting opportunities to the mid-infrared range in the next few years, with growth of 30 per cent per year expected in the segments, compounded annually through 2014.

New solutions in quantum cascade and interband cascade lasers, GaSb diode lasers and OPSLs, fibre lasers, solid-state lasers, and compact OPOs promise to expand sales into new applications. Other innovations will also help the market, such as inexpensive QEPAs, uncooled focal plane arrays, and hollow-core optical fibres. The report lists over 50 companies offering lasers in the mid-IR range, spanning the technologies listed above, as well as legacy technologies. More than half of the companies are headquartered in North America. With such a wide range of suppliers and applications, the market is highly fragmented and there is no overall leader. Some industries prefer to bring differentiating technology in-house, making several laser suppliers targets for acquisition.

CO2 lasers today dominate the sales in the mid-IR, from 10W lasers using sealed gas tubes to multi-kilowatt lasers using flowing gas blowers, for use in materials processing. Solid-state lasers are also established in medical applications.

Next to come are high-brightness sources for military applications: infrared countermeasures against heat-seeking missiles, illuminators for thermal imaging, mid-IR beacons, and so forth. These military applications are key to funding the new mid-infrared technologies while other applications get off the ground. Another long-awaited segment is sensing for molecular detection, with many exciting new opportunities in environmental monitoring, industrial process controls, security standoff detection of hazardous chemicals, and new breathalyser instruments for medical diagnostics. Other sensor applications include mid-infrared range-finding and Doppler scatterometry.

Mid-Infrared Lasers 2010 is the latest in a series of reports on lasers for industrial and consumer applications. Founded in 1979, Strategies Unlimited specialises in market research and strategic consulting directed at photonics systems and components.