The "tug of war" that exists in a manufacturing environment between innovation (we can make it faster, smaller, cheaper) and conservatism (we know it works) has resulted in the slower-than-expected uptake of some novel photonics technologies even with what seem like "obvious" benefits.
The "tug of war" that exists in a manufacturing environment between innovation (we can make it faster, smaller, cheaper) and conservatism (we know it works) has resulted in the slower-than-expected uptake of some novel photonics technologies even with what seem like "obvious" benefits. Sometimes the risks of innovation are simply deemed too high on a production line where downtime costs can be high. The decision by Volkswagen earlier this year to delay introduction of fiber lasers to its production line is a case in point (see www.ilr.com). The company cited reliability as an issue and instead has decided to adopt high-power disk lasers for its next-generation laser welding lines.
The distinction between products that are truly developed and tested as suitable for an industrial environment versus those that may happen to work for an industrial application is one that has eluded many photonics-device manufactures over the years and accounts for many false starts and lost business. One of the few positive aspects of the telecom bubble has been recognition that photonic-device reliability is just as important in the long term as performance and cost—and that the devices must be designed with this in mind from the ground up. Applying these principles to pump laser diodes will ultimately improve reliability of the entire diode-pumped laser in its many forms (see p. 149).
Of course, innovation certainly has its place—a point well made by many of this month's other articles. The output energy of a novel chirped-pulse oscillator bridges the gap between a femtosecond oscillator and a chirped-pulse amplifier and may be ideal for photomask repair among other materials processing applications (see p. 135). Meanwhile, organic semiconductors, which offer low-cost alternatives to traditional silicon-based electronics, have been inkjet-printed onto flexible substrates and may advance flexible-display technology (see p. 85). Organic semiconductors are also the basis for some of the current global efforts to develop a new generation of white-light sources for general illumination—an example of which is shown on the cover (see p. 75). And while these devices are probably at least ten years away from widespread commercial distribution, their ultimate success will certainly depend on proven reliability in real-world applications.
Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief