Laser Industry Report

April 1, 1999
In a move that consolidates its position in the technology, SDL Inc. (San Jose, CA) has purchased the fiber-laser business of Polaroid Corp. (Cambridge, MA) for $5 million. The acquisition includes all physical assets, intellectual property, and the ongoing operation of the fiber-manufacturing facilities and fiber-laser subsystem business. The deal contains a multimillion-dollar, multiyear exclusive agreement for SDL to supply the Polaroid Graphic Imaging Division with advanced fiber-laser syste

SDL buys Polaroid fiber-laser business

In a move that consolidates its position in the technology, SDL Inc. (San Jose, CA) has purchased the fiber-laser business of Polaroid Corp. (Cambridge, MA) for $5 million. The acquisition includes all physical assets, intellectual property, and the ongoing operation of the fiber-manufacturing facilities and fiber-laser subsystem business. The deal contains a multimillion-dollar, multiyear exclusive agreement for SDL to supply the Polaroid Graphic Imaging Division with advanced fiber-laser systems. According to SDL executives, the acquisition should accrue to earnings per share this year, after one-time estimated charges of about $2.5 million in the quarter ended March 31, 1999. For the past seven years, the two companies have worked together to develop double-clad fiber and fiber-laser technology. The first results are 9- and 15-W CW products that won Laser Focus World Commercial Technology Achievement awards both this year and last.

Lockheed Martin opens LENS facility

Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems-a member of a consortium formed by Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM) to develop the Laser Engineered Net Shape (LENS) process-will begin exploring laser-direct manufacturing in a factory-floor research facility at its Fort Worth, TX, plant. The facility will create custom three-dimensional aerospace parts using robot-controlled lasers and metal powder. Lockheed will share lessons learned from its facility with other consortium members. Brian Rosenberger, team leader for the facility, said, "Not only will this technology allow us to do in two weeks what now takes many months, but it will also allow replacing parts composed of hundreds of pieces produced by conventional metal cutting with unitized [single-structure] parts. This move will improve the structural integrity and reduce product weight."

Scottish startup to develop DPSS lasers

A new company called Capital City Lasers Ltd. (CCL; Edinburgh, Scotland) has been set up to develop and manufacture diode-pumped solid-state (DPSS) lasers. The firm is a spinoff of Edinburgh Instruments, which retains close ties as a shareholder. The startup firm will design and manufacture high-power DPSS lasers, with added emphasis on nonlinear frequency-conversion techniques including single-harmonic generation and optical parametric oscillation.

Semiconductor Laser attracts venture funding

Semiconductor Laser International Corp. (SLI; Binghamton, NY) has entered into a two-stage securities-purchase agreement with bmp Mobility AG Venture Capital, a wholly owned subsidiary of German stock corporation bmp Aktiengesellschaft Venture Capital and Network Management. The agreement provides for a $2.05 million to $2.75 million equity investment in S* by bmp.

Synrad opens European facility

Synrad Inc. (Mukilteo, WA) has opened a service and support area outside Munich, Germany. In August of the last year, the firm was acquired by Excel Technology, which already has a Quantronix subsidiary in Darmstadt, Germany-soon to be renamed Excel GmbH-that handles the solid-state lasers that it manufactures, as well as the laser marking systems of Excel`s Control Laser subsidiary. The Munich facility will allow Synrad to sell and service OEM products such as CO2 lasers, beam-delivery components, and optics, while drawing on the financial and administrative resources of the parent firm.

Also in the news . . .

Continuum (Santa Clara, CA), a designer and manufacturer of solid-state and tunable laser systems, recently achieved the milestone of shipping its 20,000th system. The company has been producing laser systems for scientific, OEM, industrial, and medical applications since 1990. . . . In an attempt to deal with the shortage of trained laser and optics technicians, Basic Opto-mechanical Laser Training (San Jose, CA) will offer hands-on courses to employees already working in these fields. They can be contacted at (408) 506-2658.

Merger brings together modulator experts

Gooch & Housego plc (Somerset, England), a maker of acousto-optic devices and precision optical components, has bought Cleveland Crystals (Cleveland, OH), which specializes in linear and nonlinear optical crystals. Cleveland Crystals employs 55 people and incorporates its materials in optical devices ranging from waveplates to harmonic generators. Eugene Arthurs, who will stay on as president of the crystal maker, said his company`s strength in producing optical materials will be added to Gooch & Housego`s expertise in finishing optical components. Both companies also have thin-film-coating capabilities. The merger produces a company with a general expertise in optical modulation, Arthurs said.

Grants offered for new space mirror

NASA, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the National Reconnaissance Office are offering $15 million to fund the development of large, lightweight mirrors to be used in successors to the Hubble Space Telescope. The Advanced Mirror System Demonstrator program will give out five to seven awards of about $300,000 each to contractors who will develop mirror designs for the next-generation space telescope. Those Phase I awards are expected by May 1. In Phase II, three to five groups will be given about $2.7 million to $3.7 million apiece to build a prototype mirror segment. If the program goes to Phase III, NASA will fund a single contractor to build the folded, segmented mirror. The final product will be 8 m in diameter and weigh less than 15 kg/sq m, compared to 2.4 m and 250 kg/sq m for Hubble.

JMAR to build optical components for Army

Under a $500,000 contract from the US Army Aviation and Missile Command, JMAR Technologies Inc. (San Diego, CA) will design, build, and evaluate advanced x-ray optical components for its proprietary picosecond x-ray lithography source. With funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, JMAR will receive resonance-reflection collimators recently developed by the advanced x-ray optics program at the University of California (Berkeley, CA) run by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Livermore, CA). The new technology is intended for a variety of "soft" x-ray applications.

Joint venture to sell LED lighting

Osram GmbH (Munich, Germany) and the Semiconductor Group of Siemens AG (Munich, Germany) have formed a joint venture to market semiconductor light sources with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The new venture, Osram Opto Semiconductors, is headquartered in Regensburg, Germany, where chip production also takes place. The company has additional facilities in Cupertino, CA, and Penang, Malaysia. With 2300 employees, the joint venture is projecting $212 million in sales in the first nine months of 1999. Osram, one of the world`s top three lamp manufacturers, has a 51% interest and will manage the new company.

OC* acquires Opkor for $9 million

Optical Coating Laboratory Inc. (OCLI; Santa Rosa, CA) has bought Opkor (Rochester, NY), a design and manufacturing company that specializes in precision polymer optical components and assemblies. The price is $9 million at close, plus annual earn-out payments based on Opkor`s profits. OC* agreed to pay $1.8 million in cash, with the rest as OC* stock. Opkor will continue to operate under that name as a subsidiary of OCLI. Opkor was founded in 1989 by several former employees of the Optics Division of Eastman Kodak (Rochester, NY) and has developed products for fingerprint identification for personal computers, Internet video conferencing, and projection displays. The company also specializes in high-speed assembly of optoelectronic components.

Also in the news . . .

Gould Precision Optics (Binghamton, NY) has purchased Vernonscope & Company (Binghamton, NY), a maker of optics, components, and assemblies for bird-watching and astronomy. . . . To handle the growth in demand for LED lighting, LEDtronics (Torrance, CA) has moved to a 63,000-sq ft facility with three times its previous manufacturing space.

Kodak licenses flat-panel technology

Eastman Kodak Co. (Rochester, NY) has licensed its organic-light-emitting-diode (OLED) technology to FED Corp. (Hopewell Junction, NY). The technology is seen by many as a future competitor to the standard active-matrix flat-panel display but with added advantages that include "system-on-a-chip" integration onto silicon. Both companies are heavily involved in OLED research, with Kodak holding 38 relevant patents and FED Corp. holding two. A producer of high-resolution microdisplays and field-emission displays, FED Corp. aims to integrate Kodak`s low-power, high-brightness OLEDs into viewfinders and head-wearable displays, with emphasis on full-color capability and improved packaging.

Hewlett-Packard splits its business

To concentrate on its computer business, Hewlett-Packard (HP; Palo Alto, CA), is splitting into two separate entities. One company will carry the HP name and continue with its computer and printer products. The other, as yet unnamed, is the re-embodiment of the present measurement division-a $7.6 billion business, and HP`s oldest-and will concentrate on test, measurement, and medical instrumentation. Hewlett-Packard also plans to sell 15% of its measurement division to the public through an initial public offering late this year. Lewis Platt, HP`s chief executive officer, will step down after the split.

ESSI and NASA unit to explore for gas

Earth Search Sciences Inc. (ESSI; McCall, ID) will collaborate with NASA-MSU Techlink (Bozeman, MT) in exploring for suspected coalbed methane and natural-gas resources using a commercial hyperspectral imaging instrument produced by ESSI. To be carried out this summer in Wyoming from an airborne platform, the project will combine ESSI`s hyperspectral data with traditional geological data. The goal is to better understand how coalbed methane and natural-gas deposits are positioned within the Earth. Using hyperspectral imaging, researchers can determine the presence of target minerals in geologic formations or evidence of minerals from spectral differences in vegetation at different points in an image. The cost of the aircraft-based exploration is substantially below that of obtaining similar data from a satellite.

Color predicts large demand for laser projection

The Corporation for Laser Optics Research (Color; Portsmouth, NH), a maker of laser-based projection systems, aims to fill what it sees as a large future market for projection technology. The sports-arena and mall-advertising markets, where ambient light washes out traditional projection displays, are the company`s first targets. Down the road, Color plans to move into home entertainment, desktop displays, and movie-theater projection. Theater-quality laser projectors have potential uses beyond the capabilities of film projectors-for example, the distribution of movies over fiberoptic lines. Engineers at Color are working on a high-power, all-solid-state package that will have a small footprint. With 17% of the company already owned by Sony Electronics Inc. (Park Ridge, NJ), Color is looking for a major corporate partner to go ahead with its plans, says Pendleton White Jr., vice president of marketing.

AOA successfully tests wavefront sensor

As part of an experiment done for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (Washington, DC), Adaptive Optics Associates Inc. (AOA; Cambridge, MA) successfully "flattened" a 241-actuator deformable mirror using the company`s wavefront sensor. In this sense, flattening refers to forming a precise plane optical surface on the mirror as a baseline for using it as a corrector. The test resulted in a mirror that was flat to 0.04 wave root-mean-square at a wavelength of 915 nm. Based on the Shack-Hartmann technique, AOA`s wavefront sensor contains 10,000 subapertures. A high-resolution CCD camera produces information that, when processed, can be used to determine the position of the mirror actuators.

Also in the news . . .

Coherent-Ealing Ltd. (Watford, England) has transferred its Modulation Transfer Function and Thermal Imager product lines to Optikos Corp. (Cambridge, MA). . . . In a $9.3 million deal with the US Army, Raytheon Co. (Lexington, MA) will produce a new lightweight thermal-weapon sight, with production to begin in December.

Optical-fiber conference swells in size and coverage

The exploding market for optical networks attracted record attendance and attention to the joint 1999 Optical Fiber Communication conference and International Conference on Integrated Optics and Optical Fiber Communication (San Diego, CA; Feb. 21-26). The sponsor, Optical Society of America (OSA; Washington, DC), says the initial estimate of total attendance is 11,300, up from estimates of 9300 last year (the final figure was later adjusted to 8700). Exhibitor attendance was 4850, up from 4100 in 1998. In addition to a very crowded exhibit floor, 3600 people attended technical sessions, short courses, tutorials, and special presentations. The OSA also sponsored an executive forum on related business changes and opportunities, including presentations by market and financial analysts, industry leaders, and emerging technology companies.

Corning buys Rochester Photonics, BICC businesses

Specialty-optics manufacturer Rochester Photonics Corp. (Rochester, NY) has been purchased by Corning Incorporated (Corning, NY) for an undisclosed sum. Rochester Photonics has made a name for itself developing diffractive optics, microlenses, and the precision tools needed to fabricate them. It will report to another Corning-owned subsidiary, US Precision Lens Inc. (Cincinnati, OH), which claims to be the largest manufacturer of lens systems for projection video in the world. One product of Rochester Photonics that surely attracted Corning is a toroidal "deep-sag" lens used to direct light from a diode laser into an optical fiber with low loss. In addition, for $133 million, Corning will acquire from BICC plc (London, England) its optical and metallic cable businesses and the 50% equity interest it does not already own in fiber-manufacturing subsidiary Optical Waveguides Australia Pty. Ltd. (Noble Park, Australia).

BT and Kymata strike a deal

British Telecom (BT; London, England) has acquired a 13.79% stake in Kymata Ltd. (Livingston, Scotland), a new manufacturer of optical-communication components. In exchange for the equity, BT will license a number of the firm`s optoelectronic patents. In turn, Kymata will draw on BT`s technical expertise and research facilities in Martlesham Heath to accelerate development and production of new optoelectronic integrated components for use on dense-wavelength-division-multiplexing networks across Europe.

MP opens technology center in Silicon Valley

Choosing a location close to key customers and a rich pool of technical talent, AMP Inc. (Harrisburg, PA) has opened a technology center in Palo Alto, CA, to develop next-generation fiberoptic transceivers operating at 10 Gbit/s and above. The new Silicon Valley Transceiver Division plans to involve customers early in the development process, according to Michael Toole, director of development at the laboratory.

KMI sees a future for plastic optical fiber

Driven by data communications, the market for plastic optical fiber (POF) should expand at a compound annual growth rate of 34% from a 1998 volume of $50 million to $220 million by 2003, according to KMI Corp. (Newport, RI). Current applications are primarily in Japan and Europe and predominantly in factory automation. New demand will come from the automotive industry, followed by consumer electronics and home networks. Optoelectronic devices such as laser diodes will represent more than half the market value for POF data communications systems.

Also in the news . . .

Adding to the adverse impact already felt by optoelectronic-component suppliers during Japan`s long-running recession, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Co. (Tokyo, Japan) will cut its FY1999 capital spending by more than $1.7 billion as a means of preparing for its reorganization in July. . . . Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ) has joined forces with SviazStroy-1 (Voronezh, Russia) to manufacture fiberoptic cable for network operators in the Commonwealth of Independent States. . . . Bellcore spinoff and optical-network-equipment maker Tellium Inc. (Oceanport, NJ) has named Mike Hodges CEO and president in preparation for taking its products from development to volume manufacturing.

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