Photonics goes ‘high profile’ at Photonics West

Judging by the number of new products introduced at Photonics West (January 21-26, 2006) that addressed key social needs such as improved healthcare, communications, industrial efficiency, and security, Ken Kaufmann of Hamamatsu (Bridgewater, NJ) was no doubt being sincere when he noted in the “Executive Panel: Market Direction and Implications for the World of Photonics” that photonics technologies will solve problems and make our lives better.

Feb 15th, 2006

SAN JOSE, CA - Judging by the number of new products introduced at Photonics West (January 21-26, 2006) that addressed key social needs such as improved healthcare, communications, industrial efficiency, and security, Ken Kaufmann of Hamamatsu (Bridgewater, NJ) was no doubt being sincere when he noted in the “Executive Panel: Market Direction and Implications for the World of Photonics” that photonics technologies will solve problems and make our lives better.

Kaufmann was not alone in his observations. Paul Meissner, vice president of Global Business Operations for Coherent (Santa Clara, CA), noted in his Executive Panel presentation that the photonics industry can grow beyond its perceived boundaries by increasing the adoption of photonics in consumer-driven markets. Similarly, Giorgio Anania, president and CEO of Bookham (San Jose, CA), said that photonics companies must look beyond the communications industry and invest in industries with a healthy market size and longevity in terms of the life cycle of the products needed for that market.

“We don’t want a bigger slice of the pie-we want a bigger pie,” Meissner said.

While the future of photonics was looking bright to the panel members, the topics of low-cost foreign labor and commoditization quickly dampened the mood. Kaufmann insisted that companies must cut costs through automation and take advantage of a low-cost labor force-a view reflecting the pro-automation Japanese roots of Hamamatsu. Unfortunately, Kaufmann acknowledged, as did Lynn Strickland, VP of marketing and business development for Melles Griot (Carlsbad, CA), that adoption of new technologies did require lower-cost products and that countries like China are indeed better positioned to take advantage of the commodity market that is thriving in some sectors such as optics for cell-phone cameras and display technologies.

But not all of the panel members see commoditization as a threat; Gary Spiegel, VP of sales and service at Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA), said that the commodity mentality can be combatted by offering a systems solution approach to photonics. Rather than specializing in individual products-which are often commoditized-he sees strength in the Newport model in which the customer can be offered a bundled solution of products that add value to the market being addressed. In agreement with Newport, John Stack, president and COO of Edmund Optics (Barrington, NJ), said Edmund is looking for opportunities that support commodity markets; for example, Edmund may not be able to play in the cell-phone lens market, but they can be a provider of high-speed metrology equipment that supports it.

So what is the market direction and implications for the world of photonics? Nearly all panel companies agreed that they must look for new opportunities beyond those already being commoditized. Specifically, Newport is looking at “vanity photonics” such as laser dermatology for an aging baby-boomer populace, Edmund is focusing on solid-state lighting and high-speed metrology to support commodity manufacturing markets, Coherent is looking at medical point-of-care diagnostics, and Hamamatsu is also looking at the medical market, but again notes that the cost of these medical products must be low enough for consumer adoption.

New products aplenty

Many of these same sentiments were echoed by the overwhelming sense of upbeatness on the Photonics West show floor. Photonics West has become North America’s largest commercial exhibition on optics, lasers, biomedical optics, optoelectronic components, and imaging technologies, with more than 1000 exhibitors (up from 876 in 2005) and 16,500 attendees-both new records, according to conference organizer SPIE.

Judging by the number of new-product introductions at Photonics West, the increasingly ubiquitous role of lasers and optical technologies is already having an affect on the industry. Corelase (Tampere, Finland) announced its new 20-W, 5-microjoule ultrashort pulsed fiber laser, X-LASE, for material processing applications. Cobolt (Stockholm, Sweden) showcased their Cobolt Jive laser, a 561-mm, 50-mW diode-pumped solid-state (DPSS) laser for applications based on laser-induced fluorescence.Opnext (Eatontown, NJ) introduced low-operating current red laser diodes for such familiar uses as laser levelers and display applications. SensL introduced its so-called Silicon Photomultiplier, which in actuality is a parallel-connected array of photon-counting pixels acting as a large-area, high-gain (106) avalanche photodiode that behaves like a traditional PMT, in addition to having photon-counting ability. The device produces a proportional output at low photon counts, has a 20% quantum efficiency, is small and rugged, and is not damaged by ambient light.

A working model of another new device, an illumination-delivery system by Edmund Optics (Barrington, NJ), was shown by Edmund execs at the company’s booth; however, because the company is pursuing patents on the technology, no one at Edmund was willing to discuss the technological details of the illuminator, called the EOS. The device is claimed to capture LED light so that it can be channeled through an aperture at an efficiency that reaches the limits of what physics allow. The light from various sources, including LEDs and OLEDs, and at wavelengths from the UV to the IR, can be combined in this way. Chris Cummings, an R&D engineer at Edmund, claimed that LED light captured and channeled by EOS will be at least two to five times brighter than that captured conventionally from quartz-halogen bulbs. The first product will be available in the second quarter of 2006.

Biomedical applications continue to drive product development as well. “Mini” appears to be a growing trend in spectrometers, such as the new Multimodal Multiplex Spectroscopy (MMS) systems being offered by Centice (Durham, NC): the MMS Raman (being marketed by Ocean Optics; Dunedin, FL) and MMS UV/Vis (being marketed by Newport; Irvine, CA). The push to make smaller, less-expensive spectroscopy instruments for applications in drug discovery and production, homeland security, and medical diagnosis is also resulting in industry partnerships; at Photonics West Mesophotonics (Southampton, England) announced a joint marketing agreement with HORIBA Jobin Yvon that combines HORIBA’s Raman spectroscopy systems and Mesophotonics’ surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy substrate called Klarite to enable faster, higher-accuracy analysis of biological and chemical samples at lower detection limits.

Another interesting product introduced at Photonics West was a laser nerve stimulator exhibited by Aculight (Bothell, WA); the device uses localized pulsed light in the 1.85- to 1.88-µm range passing through the skin to trigger nerves-potentially useful as a therapeutic or diagnostic tool, for instance in carpal-tunnel syndrome. Light with pulse durations ranging from 10 µs to 10 ms is directed through a 600-µm-diameter optical fiber to the skin, where it passes through to stimulate the nerve (causing a finger to twitch, for example).

- Gail Overton, John Wallace, Kathy Kincade

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