We're almost halfway through 2011 and the imminent arrival of summer brings another set of solid financial reports from the public photonics companies.
We’re almost halfway through 2011 and the imminent arrival of summer brings another set of solid financial reports from the public photonics companies. The good news is that these latest numbers confirm what we reported in January: The recession is in the past, and, with continuing order strength reported across a broad range of our markets, the future of the photonics business appears bright. Microelectronics processing seems especially healthy: Coherent’s (Santa Clara, CA) second-quarter microelectronics-related orders jumped 101% year-on-year, while on a broader note the North American semiconductor equipment industry’s book-to-bill ratio improved in March—equipment orders were up 20% year-on-year. Hopefully this will put new life into next month’s SEMICON West (San Francisco, CA). We can certainly expect to see significant contributions from optics and photonics at SEMICON as these technologies continue to gain ground in microelectronics fabrication, with established applications from laser processing of smart phones to semiconductor wafer annealing (see page 49) and plenty of opportunities for more.
New materials, novel detector designs, and more computing power are driving significant advances in the imaging arena by enabling new approaches to detecting and processing light, even as new markets continue to emerge. Monolithic arrays of Geiger-mode avalanche photodiodes (or silicon photomultipliers), for instance, offer a new tool to researchers in medicine and high-energy physics (see page 60). New detector materials such as quantum dots and carbon nanotubes can significantly enhance the performance of infrared imagers by reducing detector noise or boosting sensitivity—one issue, though, is the extended development cycle required for implementation. Now compressive sensing (CS) technology enables new detector materials to be incorporated early in their lifecycle because CS cameras use a single-pixel detector and don’t require a high-pixel-count focal-plane array (see page 31 and cover). Incidentally, opportunities abound for advanced imaging technology: One exciting new example—service robots—was highlighted recently by my colleague Tom Hausken from Strategies Unlimited on his Opto Insider blog (see http://bit.ly/9xRrTN).
Stephen G. Anderson
Editor in Chief