Three top takeaways from the Optica Online Industry Meeting on Optical Fiber Sensing

March 31, 2023
In late February 2023, Optica convened leaders in specialty fiber sensors and their applications for the Online Industry Meeting on Optical Fiber Sensing.

In late February, Optica convened leaders in specialty fiber sensors and their applications for the Online Industry Meeting on Optical Fiber Sensing. The meeting’s chief objective was to establish dialogue and connection between speakers and attendees to solve industry problems, thus advancing the field.

Because while the global distributed fiber-optic sensor market is large—valued at upwards of USD $1.44 billion—in recent years, the lion’s share of that revenue has arisen from the oil and gas industries, making fiber sensors nearly synonymous with those vertical market applications. In fact, this segment dominated industry use of distributed fiber-optic sensors, with a revenue share of more than 35.40% in 2022.

But as research around fiber sensors has continued to evolve and companies have taken it to the next application level, it has opened expansive opportunities in vertical markets as diverse as space exploration, cardiology, infrastructure monitoring, and even sailing. While some of these applications have existed for years, they have gained momentum as fiber sensing has become more practical, accessible, and affordable.

Optica’s Industry Meeting brought newfound potential to light, and three key findings emerged from discussions:

1. Fiber sensors are being explored for unexpected applications. For example, in his presentation, “Opportunities in Space for Fiber Optic Sensors,” Iain McKenzie, senior engineer, European Space Agency (ESA), discussed the potential of fiber sensors for ground testing, structural health monitoring of reusable launch vehicles, as well as more deeply evaluating the landscape of the moon.

As McKenzie mentioned, there have been several studies looking at the possibility of using distributed fiber-optic sensing as a means to do lunar seismology. Studying the dynamics of the interior of the moon and measuring events such as moonquakes and meteorite impacts could be an application of fiber sensors in the future.

2. Fiber sensors are being fabricated so that they may be applied in a wider range of applications. Canadian firm Resonetics Québec/FISO Technologies specializes in integrating the finest fibers into advanced medical systems. Éric Pinet, principal research scientist at the company, shared in his presentation, “Fiber Optics Sensors for Medical and Industrial Harsh Applications,” that through small and reliable optical pressure sensors—including the smallest form factor on the market at 200 µm—a wide potential for customization exists.

This personalized potential means that this form of fiber sensor can be leveraged to solve difficult and precise measuring challenges in medical fields. For example, Pinet discussed sensors that are used in cardiology as diagnostic catheters to measure blood pressure and identify the right placement of a stent.

But those same sensors can be deployed in industrial environments and process monitoring. Specifically, Pinet discussed hot spots monitoring in high-power transformers and leak detection in pipeline or powerline monitoring. Resonetics Québec/FISO Technologies was even recently selected to deploy displacement sensors in the ITER fusion reactor.

This multi-use signifies to companies manufacturing fiber sensors that they can expand their market reach by adjusting for individual industry needs.

3. More work and industry collaboration are needed to make these concepts a reality. Case in point: McKenzie pointed out that while the interest in fiber sensing for moon exploration exists, there are a number of hurdles to overcome, including power consumption, data processing, and how to develop a fiber cable that would be able to couple efficiently between the moon surface and the optical fiber inside it. These and other variables make this an area that requires more research and development.

This is a more far-off example, but it represents much of what awaits fiber sensing. As new challenges emerge, fiber sensors can fill voids, but it’s only when industry companies are plugged into what end-users are thinking that they can act as true partners and brainstorm potential solutions.

With that in mind, I invite you to fully explore the meeting by viewing the open session on Optica’s YouTube channel. As you watch, if an idea strikes you, please reach out to me. I’m happy to make a personal introduction to a speaker or attendee in the session with the goal of fueling further dialogue and development in fiber sensing.

Because I suspect I’m not alone in questioning what will be the next big breakthrough for optical fiber sensors. This meeting showed us that new and varied applications will emerge as advances in scale and production continue, new research uncovers new use cases, and collaboration grows between leaders in the field. With this emphasis on optical fiber sensing’s technological potential, I expect we will see widespread diversity in vertical market use cases as 2030 nears. 

About the Author

Jose Pozo | Chief Technology Officer, Optica

Jose Pozo joined Optica in March 2022, and has spent more than 25 years working in photonics. He earned a PhD in quantum physics from the University of Bristol (U.K.), and an M.Sc. and B.Eng. in telecom engineering from UPNA, Spain / VUB (Belgium). Prior to joining the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) in 2015 as CTO, Jose was a Senior Photonics Technology Consultant with PNO Consultants, with some of the main accounts such as CERN, Thales, and TE Connectivity. He has worked at TNO, The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, and as a postdoctoral researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, where he contributed to the early development of EFFECT Photonics.

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