Lasers and light sources keep finding new markets
Since the dawn of the 21st century, fiber lasers have been the fastest growing segment of the laser markets.
Since the dawn of the 21st century, fiber lasers have been the fastest growing segment of the laser markets, adopted into applications ranging from biomedicine to defense and research. The market where the technology has had the greatest impact by far is industrial materials processing, where Strategies Unlimited estimates that fiber laser sales revenue grew 22% in 2015. Automotive manufacturers in particular have become comfortable with fiber lasers and willing to embrace advanced processes that improve productivity, as engineers from IPG Photonics explain in our cover story about using multiple laser beams in a single process for applications such as brazing, welding, and surface texturing (see page 27).
One product area where fiber lasers have not had an impact is handheld spectrometers, where the light source is more likely a laser diode or quantum cascade laser. As Senior Editor Gail Overton writes in this month's Photonics Products article, handheld spectrometer designs have continued to shrink in size and/or weight, while increasing in variety and performance (see page 35). The competition and choices have significantly grown in recent years, but the advantages this new generation of spectrometers provides are significant for research, process control, and security.
The light-emitting diode (LED), often thought of as little more than a light source for displays or illumination, is also penetrating important new markets. Ultraviolet LEDs can monitor water and cure adhesives and inks, micro-LEDs can be used in optogenetics, and GeSn LEDs, fabricated on silicon, could make their way into silicon photonic devices—all new applications that contributing editor Jeff Hecht describes in his Photonic Frontiers feature (see page 22).
Two other new applications described in this issue rely on innovations in lasers for biophotonics—mid-infrared optical biopsy and photoacoustic imaging. The great thing about covering photonics is that I can use the word "new" frequently, and still be very accurate.
W. Conard Holton
Editor in Chief