Ceramic Industry

Fitting Square Optics into a Round Hole

December 1, 2011
A new beam-shaping technology sets an example for modern manufacturing.

The beam shaper consists of multi-component glass fibers.

In a constantly evolving industry that demands continued affordability, manufacturers of glass and ceramics must be able to adapt to new technologies. For experienced manufacturers, adaptability is the link between a company’s history and the innovative solutions that keep industry technology modern. These manufacturers meet the needs of rapidly evolving markets and remain current by constantly developing technical expertise and reliability.

One of technology’s newest developments, the flexible laser beam shaper, stands out as an example of technical expertise meeting adaptability because of its effect on the landscape for lighting and imaging technology. Over the last 10-15 years, laser technology has become increasingly inexpensive. However, the cost of the technology’s beam-shaping components-specifically micro-mirrors and fast-axis collimation (FAC) lenses-remains high. The need for a high-quality cost-efficient beam shaper became clear.

The new beam shaper can transfer light from any shape into the round beam that is required for many optical components.

Developing Laser Technology

To address the obstacle of expense vs. quality in the development of new beam shaper technology, SCHOTT capitalized on decades of knowledge in the medical and industrial imaging fields. In May 2010, SCHOTT unveiled its solution for forming “square” laser diode light into a homogeneous beam of light of any desired shape.

The beam shaper consists of multi-component glass fibers that have been fused into a rectangular-shaped input profile. The light emitted by the laser diodes can be converted into various shapes, such as circular with a small diameter. Coupling the laser diodes with the beam shaper means that the light can be shaped without FAC lenses, improving the overall performance and flexibility of the technology.

With anti-reflective coatings on both ends, 90% transmission can be achieved. This level of transmission makes it possible for common light guide lengths of up to 2000 mm without any additional components and coupling losses. In addition, the beam is designed with fibers covering a numerical aperture range from 0.4 to 0.8, thereby replacing the need for an FAC lens.

A Simpler Design

These changes not only reduced the need for more expensive components in laser beam technology, but they also led to a robust beam shaper design that maintains easy handling for optical engineers. Engineers have to be mindful of every detail when working with a precision-based technology like lasers. If a laser diode system’s power supply exceeds the recommended maximum current for even a microsecond, it can cause significant damage to other components in the system. Any solution that was developed had to fit in seamlessly with the technology to which the engineers were accustomed.

The way laser diodes are applied was also simplified through the development of cost-effective and easy-to-handle components for laser technology. Because the new beam shaper can transfer light from any shape into the round beam that is required for many optical components, it widens the pool of opportunity for laser diode systems. If a system has a rectangular bar from which the light is reflecting, it can be used with the beam shaper to form a round laser beam measuring up to 15.0 x 1.0 mm. This permits the use of a rounded laser beam in a system that originally may not have had one.

This ability to transfer properties into a special shape makes the beam shaper applicable to processes in many fields. It is currently used in sensing technology, and is being adapted for broader use in the medical and industrial fields. When applied in the industrial fields, the beam shaper’s multi-component fiber quality is important to plastic melting applications. These fibers need to handle the transfer of near-infrared light well, a process that is usually made difficult by more traditional silicon fibers.

Modern Methods

The quality technology that provides the basis for this kind of development is made possible through technical expertise. SCHOTT requires team members to be qualified in servicing all different levels, from system design to integrated system solutions. The company’s team needs to be able to move technology forward by adjusting it according to customers’ needs and to lessons learned from each field.

Quality products, technical expertise and applying market knowledge to develop solutions for any industry will be the deciding factors in how manufacturers can stay modern. The flexible beam shaper is a prime example of how technology companies can be leaders in an evolving market landscape.

For more information, contact SCHOTT Lighting and Imaging at 122 Charlton St., Southbridge, MA 01550; call (508) 765-9744; fax (508) 765-1299; or visit www.us.schott.com/lightingimaging.