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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.