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SPIE CEO: Photonics Industry Growing

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HONG KONG, Dec. 7, 2011 — The demand for photonics is large and on the way to becoming "enormous," yet the ubiquitous technology remains nearly invisible to the general public, SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs told participants last month at the Hong Kong Optical Engineering International Conference (HKOEIC 2011).

Consumer products using or manufactured with optics are everywhere — computers, flat-panel televisions and monitors, tablets, smartphones, MP3 players, broadband Internet, security and defense systems, medical imaging and diagnostics, laser surgery, light-based cancer treatments, solar energy, solid-state lighting (SSL), and much more. In 2010, the photonics sector was responsible for an estimated 1.7 million jobs, and about $22 billion was spent on photonics R&D in the commercial sector.

Yet many in the general public don't recognize optics and photonics as the technology they are looking at or even through, Arthurs said. Even in higher education, he noted, the field is rarely recognized as a discipline, but more often coupled with physics or electrical engineering programs.

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs speaks at HKOEIC 2011 in Hong Kong on the global photonics market. (Photo: SPIE)

Among growth indicators, the number of mobile devices that shipped in 2010 — more than 80 million, according to one SPIE source — is expected to more than double in 2012.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) cell production more than doubled in 2010 over 2009, and huge new investments in China will help boost further growth.

Falling prices for solar PV systems will help make PV more competitive with established energy sources, particularly when collateral costs for established energy sources are added in — environmental costs associated with fossil fuels, cleanup of polluted water and earthquake remediation associated with fracking, etc.

SSL is a strong and growing sector in Asia in particular, Arthurs noted, because the continent supplies 72 percent of its production worldwide. China is making new investments, and in early November announced that it would phase out incandescent bulbs, beginning with a ban on the import and sale of 100-W-and-higher bulbs as of Oct. 1, 2012.

"Asia is the leading source of much photonics innovation and will continue to be an important driver in future growth," Arthurs said. "The region's semiconductor and lighting industries in particular are responsible for important recent advances in efficiencies as well as research discoveries."

At HKOEIC, he highlighted areas in which photonics technology is improving life worldwide. Among them:

•Integrated photonics systems are expected to help speed computer processing and to decrease the cost of energy to power computers.
Laser sintering 3-D printers for manufacturing are streamlining processes for numerous products and increasing automobile efficiencies through more accurately machined and lighter-weight parts.
•Fusion energy systems now in the early stages of development at the National Ignition Facility, the High Power Laser Energy Research facility (HiPER, and the Extreme Light Infrastructure project (ELI) will ultimately provide new clean-energy sources.
•In biophotonics, advances in microscopy for on-chip imaging of cells and blood samples are revolutionizing health care in remote regions by eliminating delays in diagnosis of conditions such as malaria, and new light-based techniques are detecting diseases such as cancer sooner, imaging them more accurately and treating them with new noninvasive modalities.
•Communications and image processing applications spinning off from defense uses are resulting in increased community security, weather forecasting and other public safety uses.
•Ladar spinoff applications have been developed for fields as diverse as archaeology in a 3-D survey of ruins of a buried Mayan City and for infrastructure planning such as aerial 3-D scans to evaluate deployment of solar energy systems.

HKOEIC 2011 was sponsored by the Hong Kong Optical Engineering Society.

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Dec 2011
laser sintering
Commonly known as 3D printing, this process can create three-dimensional parts by fusing small particles of powder. A CO2 laser is used to fuse the particles into a solid material. The laser can selectively fuse the powders by scanning X and Y cross sections of the powder bed. The system builds the object one layer at a time through the use of supplied 3D CAD data.
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...
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