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Staying on the edge in a soft market

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2010
Lynn Savage, Features Editor, lynn.savage@laurin.com

The economic downturn that has plagued the globe since 2007 has not affected all photonics companies badly, but those that are treading water best – or even thriving – are doing so by persistently developing new technologies, finding new applications for old tech and working with photonics-related associations to identify and take advantage of new ways of doing business.

One organization attempting to keep up a steady flow of new ideas and opportunities is Laser Zentrum Hanover eV (LZH). The Germany-based association recently made a pair of announcements that speak directly to its drive to sustain innovation, even in lean times.

LZH first announced that, with its partner neoLase GmbH, it has developed an application for the iPhone that can remotely operate a stand-alone laser system. Using the software, all of the functions of a laser in a specific location are always at hand, according to LZH, no matter where the phone is at the time – same room or different continent. The remote user can monitor and control the laser system’s operating parameters, such as intensity and repetition rate. In addition, the application facilitates remote service calls via built-in diagnostic tools. No word yet on how use of the iPhone affects laser safety issues.

In its second announcement, LZH reported that the world’s ecological consciousness has caught up enough to make practical a novel spectroscopy-based technique that had been in development since 1999. Dubbed Identitex, the long-boiling project aims to automate the practice of recycling some of the millions of pounds of used clothing that otherwise are discarded every year in Europe. For Identitex, LZH collaborated with several Dutch and German technology and textile companies.

Based chiefly on a visible/near-IR spectrometer devised by LZH, Identitex distinguishes both the color and material of old clothing that passes beneath it. According to LZH, the system can separate the blue from the black, the cottons from the nylon, at a rate of 10 kg/min with up to 99 percent accuracy. After sorting, recycled fibers of matching color and substance can be deconstructed and rewoven into new goods and put back on the market.

From old clothes to new phones, photonics can interweave itself into many lucrative endeavors.


GLOSSARY
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
spectrometer
A kind of spectrograph in which some form of detector, other than a photographic film, is used to measure the distribution of radiation in a particular wavelength region.  
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