Solid-state and semiconductor laser technologies have developed significantly during the past several years, with advances ranging from new materials to process improvements. Combining these developments with market-driven demand for some of the consequent benefits--such as smaller size or lower-cost devices--has changed the laser marketplace. Many laser suppliers, for example, have been forced to completely rethink their approach to the business. One of the more obvious trends has been the transition by many of the larger laser producers from serving primarily end users in a research-dominated marketplace to serving higher-volume suppliers of systems to industrial markets. Laser makers can no longer survive just by asking themselves if their new laser products work. They must now also ask if their products are manufacturable, reliable, and cost-effective.
Readers of Laser Focus World will have noticed this trend manifested in several ways. Perhaps most obvious has been the increasing frequency of articles related to the manufacture of both laser and optoelectronic devices and the systems that use them. This month`s issue, for example, includes a description of how automated testing is used to improve volume production of 980-nm-output diode-laser pumps (see p. 191). And in the volume-manufacturing realm, laser-based semiconductor-memory repair is a significant application of solid-state lasers and is discussed on p. 181.
In another example, the advent of highly reliable optoelectronic devices has allowed successful commercial development of wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM)--a telecommunications technology that has advanced so rapidly because of market demand that suppliers have been hard-pressed to keep up. We have covered WDM extensively and continue to do so this month with an article that discusses monitoring the high-bandwidth networks that result from successful implementation of WDM (see p. 171).
There are, of course, other situations where technology development does not keep up with market demand. The blue-emitting semiconductor laser, for example, is expected by many observers to open up the market for an entirely new generation of high-capacity optical storage devices. Though few observers doubt the commercial potential of a blue-output diode laser, many firms are still busy further developing existing technologies. Read-only compact disks, for instance, have been around for many years serving both audio and computer storage markets, but a new rewritable version is available that may broaden their appeal (see p. 203). Along similar lines, laser applications based on deep-ultraviolet light are hampered by the lack of practical nonlinear optical materials for uncomplicated harmonic generation of light below 200 nm (see p. 127).