MURRAY HILL, NJ—With a new two-year Advanced Technology Program (ATP) award in its pocket, OFS Laboratories is hoping to achieve the breakthroughs in optical fiber design that will enable the performance improvements necessary to spur widespread adoption of fiber lasers for industrial applications. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST; Boulder, CO) will provide up to $2 million in ATP funding to OFS Laboratories to support the development of new components and new processes for manufacturing high-power fiber lasers in their facilities in Murray Hill and Somerset, NJ.
In theory, fiber lasers can overcome the limitations of conventional solid-state lasers in beam quality, pulse repetition rate, and average power. However, problems with energy storage in the gain medium and nonlinear optical effects in the fiber limit the user of fiber lasers for pulsed, high-power applications. The key is to increase the effective area of the laser-amplifying portion of the fiber while suppressing energy losses to unwanted frequencies that normally increase as area increases. ATP funding for development of new optical fiber fabrication techniques removes the barriers normally imposed by the high R&D risk for any individual market segment in what is viewed as a highly fragmented fiber laser industry.
David DiGiovanni, director of OFS, says the company's ATP activity is ultimately designed to ensure that advances in specialty fiber designs will find their way into industry through patents that can be licensed by other manufacturers. The company holds some 600 patents, including development of new fiber structures in 1995 (U.S. patents 5708669, 5873923, 5937134), low-index polymers in 1996 (U.S. patents 5756209, 5822489, 6249638), tapered fiber bundles in 1997 (U.S. patents 5864644, 5935288), airclad fibers in 1997 (U.S. patent 5907652), and a 10-W 1550-nm amplifier in 2000. In addition, OFS engineers have authored a number of papers on Raman lasers for optical communications and fiber-based, high-power supercontinuum light sources.
"We've been pushing collaborations for the last 10 years, but only with the adoption of fiber lasers into many areas of industry has this need for a collaborative effort been recognized," DiGiovanni said. In fact, he added, OFS received numerous letters of support fromtheir colleagues at universities and research institutions, national laboratories, and defense contractorswhen applying for the ATP award; clearly, these institutions are expecting to benefit fromthe research now under way.