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The Photonics Spotlight

The Laser Industry - High Tech or Low Tech?

Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta

Laser technology is normally without any hesitation regarded as a prime example of high technology. But what actually makes high technology? I think this question deserves some thought, since the application of reasonable criteria and standards can stimulate improvements (also in this case, I promise!), while simply taking over the slogans from marketing departments will normally not produce much insight.

A precise definition of “high tech” seems not to exist, but we may anyway discuss what a sensible meaning could be. Certainly, such a technology should be advanced compared to the average; for example, it should operate at the forefront of scientific knowledge, implement substantially novel ideas, use advanced methods of design and fabrication and/or novel materials, and finally achieve amazing performance which wasn't possible a while ago.

Let us now ask to what extent laser technology meets such criteria, and also to what extent this applies to the existing laser industry – technology is an abstract thing, and what really happens does so in industry.

So what happens on the ground is often not what should be characteristic for a high-tech industry. Huge potentials in terms of cost and performance are wasted. What is deadly needed is in particular a better education for many more laser engineers, including a serious amount of continuing education in every high-tech company, and – may I say that? – the support of high-level technical consultants in areas like product design, problem analysis e.g. with the use of modeling, and staff training not only for the secretary (for handling the new office software) but also for the technical personnel.

This article is a posting of the Photonics Spotlight, authored by Dr. Rüdiger Paschotta. You may link to this page, because its location is permanent. See also the Encyclopedia of Laser Physics and Technology.

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