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.
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.
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.
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.
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
When Ophir Optronics was formed in 1976 its founders forecast a turnover of US$30 million in 25 years. Their strategic vision has been realised, with further steady growth predicted for the future, writes Tim Gillett
Despite having blue-chip clients including the US military and Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Ophir Optronics' managing director Yoram Shalev says its greatest strength lies in its human resources. He tells Electro Optics: 'From the outset, we have always been a people company. Despite the fact that we are involved in state-of-the-art processes, we retain old-fashioned values when it comes to our staff - treat them well and keep them happy, as they represent the future success of the company.'
A high-profile use of lasers in modern life is that of printing and graphics, as Peter Rees discovers
In printing, lasers are everywhere from the home to the largest industrial presses. It is a technically diverse sector with lasers of several types finding favour with equipment manufacturers and users. Perhaps this isn't surprising, given the different types of printing in use - lithography, flexography, gravure - and the fragmented nature of the industry.
There are tens of thousands of commercial printing companies worldwide - the US alone has around 35,000 firms - and most are small or medium-sized. The result is that change - at least across the whole industry - comes slowly. Paradoxically perhaps, printing technology is changing rapidly as it becomes increasingly computerised and automated. Fully digital presses - see panel - cannot yet match the overall product quality of traditional offset printing, in which ink is spread on a metal plate holding an image, transferred first to a rubber blanket and then to paper.
With the photonics market encompassing everything from the smallest component to the largest integrated laser system and beyond, tracking a product from manufacturer to end-user is often tricky, if not impossible. By Warren Clark
So, how do products reach you? Well, there are two main routes, but even they can be broken down into several variants according to the type of product and the sector of photonics. Principally, though, you will either buy your product direct from a manufacturer or via a distributor.
The direct route is often not that direct. It is rarely a case of picking a product off a shelf or calling the manufacturer direct and expecting the product to arrive next day. That does happen, of course, but the complex nature of the photonics industry means that unless you know exactly what you want - and that it is available as a standard product - you will find that the route to market involves a few more twists and turns.
The expansion of the EU last year made dealing with many Eastern European countries even easier - and photonics is an industry taking full advantage, according to Tim Gillett
Photonics in Eastern Europe has been a growth industry in recent years - not least since a succession of countries joined the European Union in 2004.
While several photonics companies in the region have been in existence for decades - the Czech Republic's Crytur, for example, was formed some 60 years ago - many report that international business has picked up strongly since their home countries joined the EU. The year 2004 saw the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia join the European Union.
The worldwide optoelectronics marketplace offers industry players a number of viable approaches for generating and sustaining attractive, profitable growth. Technology differentiation is generally a critical element in all of these approaches. The various approaches, however, seek to achieve technology differentiation in fundamentally different ways. Experience shows that all of the approaches can be successful, given the right conditions and sound technology and market strategies. Introduction of fundamentally new, breakthrough technologies is one particular innovation path, and is often the primary focus of corporate strategic plans. This approach aims to generate significant differentiation, and is typically associated with substantial, multi-year R&D and manufacturing investments.