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Industry puts pandemic in view

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As COVID-19 spreads and causes hundreds of thousands to fall ill, it continues to affect theDouglas Farmer workflows of researchers, industrial producers, and product developers. Many have been forced to work from home as a precaution to prevent further transmission of the disease. While the long-term economic impact of the virus is not yet clear, the industry is watching developments with particular interest as various parts of the supply chain from design to manufacturing of photonic devices are affected in different ways by restrictions on travel and commerce.

People around the world have been transfixed on both official and private channels that are going through the painstaking process of gathering information about COVID-19, which clinicians have revealed as a ribonucleic acid (RNA), surrounded by a protein shell called nucleocapsid.

John Lincoln, CEO of the Photonics Leadership Group in the U.K., pointed out that many technical and sales staff are used to working on the road, so remote activity is part of their jobs. And certain aspects of the industry are more needed than ever; many companies are racing to use laser technology to produce ventilator parts or optical diagnostic equipment, for example. The group is continuing to survey academics about the direction of photonics research, as well as consulting industrial representatives about what a pathway for return to normal production could look like. It is still too early, Lincoln said, to know the answers to these questions.

The European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) recently held a virtual discussion on the effects the virus has had on the supply chain of the industry. Carlos Lee, director general of EPIC, said various aspects of the business are fluctuating at different points in the cycle. Manufacturing continues in some areas that have not been shut down, but shipping of parts and products — especially from China — has been hindered or forced to take circuitous routes to destinations. While many companies are busy working on filling back orders, in a few months’ time, they may feel the effects of reduced demand for particular products and processes. It will be crucial, Lee said, for key figures in the industry to serve as resources to each other — making online conferences (planned by EPIC and other organizations) even more valuable for positioning the industry for recovery.

The good news is that science and industrial development continue to move forward. In our cover story for this edition, Matthias Beier and Johannes Hartung write that freeform, metallic optics allows for precision in the design of components for the aeronautics and laser industries, among others. Read more here. Similarly, in the “EPIC Insights” column, authors Francesca Moglia and Jose Pozo show how additive manufacturing, or 3D-printing technology, is being endorsed in public-private partnerships throughout Europe. For more on this trend, read here.

Contributing editor Marie Freebody reveals how remote sensing from space can document trends in the changing climate, as satellites gather huge quantities of data throughout the optical spectrum. Learn more about these innovations here.

Enjoy the issue!

Summer 2020

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