Six Thermo Electron photonics businesses combined earlier this month under the Spectra-Physics name in a move fueled by recent research. In what company President Guy Broadbent called brand integration, its laser business unites with those of nitrogen and dye laser manufacturer Laser Science Inc., formerly of Franklin, Mass.; the photonics components and instruments catalog business of Oriel in Stratford, Conn., which includes Opticon replicated mirrors; and optical filter manufacturer Corion, also in Franklin.Also included are Hilger Crystals, a manufacturer of synthetic crystals for IR optics in Margate, UK, diffraction grating manufacturer RGL (formerly Richardson Grating Laboratory) in Rochester, N.Y., and imaging system supplier Cidtec in Liverpool, N.Y."In a nutshell," Broadbent said, "we've combined these businesses and product lines under a single brand umbrella to provide the broadest range of optical capabilities available."Perhaps its first major business news since the Waltham, Mass.-based parent company took Spectra-Physics private last year, this effort should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Thermo Electron and its corporatewide emphasis on integration in recent months.The move also places Spectra-Physics in a more strategic position to offer a fairly complete photonics engine to systems integrators and OEMs. While the firm will continue to offer the products supplied by each business unit, Broadbent stressed that it also will provide a more integrated approach to customers -- from design services to prototyping through subsystem assembly."It is important that end users understand that we will continue our strong commitment in our current product specialties so that we continue to meet existing customer needs," he said. "At the same time, we are placing new emphasis on working together across the organization to provide more comprehensive services and integrated products. This will be equally true for researchers requiring a one-stop catalog of diverse standard products, as well as our OEM customers.""Across the organization," he continued, "we already have established relationships with OEM customers, so it is a logical next step to become an extension of customers' optical engineering teams and their manufacturing process."The appeal of such an integrated photonics engine is twofold. The company can continue to serve its existing customer base, while also trying to draw new customers to photonics applications. Done properly, an integrated approach to photonic component and subsystem design and assembly has the potential to shorten design time, reduce prototype iterations and, most importantly for those gun-shy about using photonic components, lower project risk on the part of the end user.So what about the timing of this move? Broadbent is optimistic that customers and the industry are ready for the firm's new business model, which optimizes both technical and operational focus."It may be an overused expression," he said, "but most people are in agreement that we are entering the age of photonics. Lasers and the optical beam trains that manipulate and detect light represent critically enabling technologies in many applications, such as industrial manufacturing, data storage and biomedicine, as well as a diverse range of consumer products."Photonics allows things to be done faster, cheaper and better. And just as important, it enables things to be accomplished that were simply not physically possible or economically feasible using any other technology."