Optoelectronics Watch

Oct. 1, 2003

Military applications help pull optical fiber company up from the doldrums

By John Keller

EAST GRANBY, Conn. — The disastrous telecommunications industry downturn has left many optical fiber companies reeling and grasping for ways to keep their businesses afloat.

One company, Nufern of East Granby, Conn., chose to put its telecommunications activities temporarily on hold and turn to military and aerospace applications. The result is a tenfold increase in Nufern's business since its lowest economic point in late 2002, says Nufern President Martin Seifert.

Nufern's expertise is specialty optical fiber that can carry extremely high amounts of light at precise levels. Like many optical companies, Nufern hitched its fortunes to the telecom boom of the late 1990s.

"In 2000 the rate of rise in telecom was beyond ballistic; we increased our business by a factor of five in one year — we quintupled our business from Q-1 to Q-4 of that year" says Seifert, who also is Nufern's chief executive officer.

"But in 2001 the exact opposite drop happened," he says. "We went to lower than where we started, and of course this happened after we ramped up like mad to meet demand."

Nufern leaders had to find something to stem the financial hemorrhaging. Seifert, a veteran of Rockwell Automation in Milwaukee, turned his company in the direction of military and aerospace applications, and he has never been sorry for his decision.

While only three years ago Nufern officials faced the challenge of keeping up with telecommunications industry orders for their specialty fiber, today 80 percent of the company's revenue comes from military customers — particularly those building fiber-optic gyro and fiber-optic laser systems.

"In March of 2002 we made the strategic decision to go after the gyro and laser business; Darwin said the race doesn't necessarily go to the fastest, but to the fastest to adapt," Seifert says. "In the gyro space nobody has ever made a fiber-optic gyro that can beat the performance of the best mechanical gyros, so the fiber-optic gyro was always the gyro with potential."

Nufern experts are concentrating on several specialty fibers, including those that resist the effects of high levels of radiation, and those that can be wound very tightly. Radiation-resistant fiber can help build optoelectronic systems able to operate through atomic blasts, and tightly wound fiber can help yield some of the smallest fiber-optic gyros for inertial measurement units (IMUs) ever built.

"Look at all the successes of smart weapons being dropped out of aircraft," Seifert says. "People want to implement smart weapons down to shoulder-fired weapons, and to do that you have to shrink the IMU."

Although Nufern's revenues have not marched the highest levels of the telecom boom, the company's earnings are 10 times what they were at their lowest point in late 2002, Seifert says. That level is about half of the company's highest earnings in 2000. He would not state revenue numbers because the company is privately held.

A big part of Nufern's approach is to produce specialty optical fiber that designers could apply in a wide variety of systems — a strategy, which other companies might do well to emulate, Seifert says.

One example is Nufern's high-power fiber for continuous- and pulsed-laser applications. The same fiber, with few modifications, could support 2-to 3-kilowatt high-power laser applications, or 2-to-3-watt cable television (CATV).

"We have chosen to invest in a technology that enables several areas of interest, and in dramatically different ways," he says. "My advice to companies is to try to find a technology that, with very slight adaptation, can address a number of key problem areas. For us the fiber laser does that."

Nufern leaders do not expect to ignore telecommunications forever, Seifert says. In fact, "telecom cam back on our radar screen in the last month. The market that is hot now is broadband access, which is in the CATV market. That has just turned on, and requires the same fiber we developed for our high-power lasers."

While military and aerospace applications have helped lift Nufern out of the telecom downturn, Seifert points out that government-supported markets can be problematic.

"Everybody is talking about homeland security, but we have yet to see a dollar from homeland security," he says. "

PerkinElmer Optoelectronics nets $16 million in military and aerospace work

The PerkinElmer Inc. Optoelectronics group in Fremont, Calif., won more than $16 million in military and aerospace contracts for charged-coupled device cameras for airborne reconnaissance and night vision applications; optical assemblies for missile guidance; ruggedized fluorescent interior lights for the International Space Station; and related support. Additionally, PerkinElmer Optoelectronics won the 2002 Raytheon/Lockheed-Martin Javelin Joint Venture supplier of the year award for 100 percent on-time delivery and high quality levels. PerkinElmer Optoelectronics supplies military, biomedical, and industrial applications. For more information contact PerkinElmer Optoelectronics by phone at 510-979-6500, by fax at 510-687-1140, by e-mail at [email protected], by post at 44370 Christy St., Fremont, Calif. 94538-3180, on the World Wide Web at http:// www.perkinelmer.com/.

Avanex buys Vitesse Optical Systems to expand transponder business

Leaders of Avanex Corp. in Fremont, Calif., have acquired substantially all assets of the Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. Optical Systems Division in San Jose, Calif., for approximately 1.2 million shares of Avanex common stock. "The acquisition of this business will enhance our already strong presence in transponders and expand our customer traction in subsystem products," says Walter Alessandrini, Avanex chairman, president, and chief executive officer. Avanex provides intelligent photonic processing subsystems and modules for fiber-optic communications networks. For more information contact Avanex by phone at 510-897-4188, by fax at 510-897-4189, by post at 40919 Encyclopedia Circle, Fremont, Calif. 94538, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.avanex.com/.

Stratos to supply vehicular optical interconnects for United Kingdom Bowman program

By John Keller

CHICAGO — Component designers at Stratos Lightwave Inc. in Chicago are set to provide optoelectronic subsystems and components for the United Kingdom's Bowman battlefield radio program.

Stratos is providing a full-optical circuit board and bulkhead connector to Bowman prime contractor General Dynamics UK Ltd. in London. Stratos engineers package the board and connector in a ruggedized box called the Bowman Electrical-Optical Module — otherwise known as BEOM.

This module does two things: it converts RF signals to optical signals, and helps connect stationary vehicles and command posts with optical fiber to reduce or eliminate the RF signatures of military concentrations, says Steve Tebo, corporate marketing manager at Stratos.

The BEOM attaches to the bulkheads of main battle tanks and other military vehicles, and has three fiber ports to connect the vehicle's communications gear to other communications systems nearby via daisy chain or ring network, explains Grover Brower, general manager of the Stratos Lightwave Florida business unit in Palm Bay, Fla. The BEOM can connect vehicles and command posts as far apart as one mile.

"This is a nice solution for the battlefield," Brower says. "These vehicles are getting daily orders, targeting information updates, and e-mail, and are all connected with a high-speed link. When they get orders to deploy, they disconnect the fiber, take off, and rely on wireless communications."

The dusty, muddy environment of the battlefield often dissuades military planners from relying on butt joint fiber-optic interconnects. Conventional optical connectors cannot tolerate dirt and dust before serious signal degradation occurs.

"The butt joint has two fiber cables butted up against each other, with no spacing in-between," Brower explains. "The problem is any dirt or grime can cloud the fiber, which itself is only nine micrometers in diameter. It is easy to block those signals with only a little dust and dirt, and requires cleaning and maintenance."

Instead of the butt joint, however, Stratos experts are providing expanded-beam interconnect technology, which places a tiny ball lens on the end of the fiber to expand the light beam to as large as 900 microns. "Now it will withstand some dust and dirt because grime would only block a portion of that beam, or not at all," Brower says.

For more information contact Stratos Lightwave by phone at 708-867-9600, by fax at 708-867-4140, by post at 7444 W. Wilson Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60706-4549, on the World Wide Web at http://www.stratoslightwave.com/.

Leica Geosystems set to release photogrammetry software tool suite

Officials of Leica Geosystems GIS & Mapping in Atlanta are releasing the Leica Photogrammetry Suite this fall. The suite of digital photogrammetry products, which is to be compatible with Leica Geosystems' flagship geographic imaging software suite, enables users to transform raw imagery into reliable data layers necessary for all digital mapping, GIS analysis, and 3D visualization. The suite will consist of Leica Photogrammetry Suite Core; Leica Photogrammetry Suite Stereo; Leica Photogrammetry Suite Automatic Terrain Extraction; Leica Photogrammetry Suite Terrain Editor; Leica Photogrammetry Suite PRO600; and Leica Photogrammetry Suite ORIMA. "The Leica Photogrammetry Suite takes our existing photogrammetry products to a whole new level," says Martin Tremp, vice president of business development. The Leica Photogrammetry Suite will be available for download via the Leica Geosystems Web site. For more information contact Leica Geosystems GIS & Mapping by phone at 404-248 9000, by fax at 404-248-9400, by post at 2801 Buford Highway, N.E., Atlanta, Ga. 30329-2137, or on the World Wide Web at http://gis.leica-geosystems.com/.

ALST unveils laser designators for small mobile targets

Advanced Laser Systems Technology in Orlando, Fla., is introducing the TE-50 eye-safe laser rangefinder with an enhanced-sensitivity thermo electrically cooled receiver and a narrow-beam divergence. The compact and light TE-50 is for applications where available space for a high-performance long-range rangefinder is limited, and where potential targets include small objects such as unmanned aerial vehicles and jet skies. The erbium-glass laser has a pulse rate as fast as 3 Hz, flash lamp reliability of more than 200,000 shots, and a range as far as 24 miles. For more information contact Advanced Laser Systems by phone at 407-295-5878, by fax at 407-298-6012, by e-mail at [email protected], by post at 6860 Edgewater Commerce Parkway, Suite 500, Orlando, Fla. 32810, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.alst.com/.

JDS Uniphase extends Fibre Channel, Gigabit Ethernet transceiver offerings

Officials of JDS Uniphase Corp. in San Jose, Calif., are offering a new family of XFP MSA-compliant transceivers and extending their line of SFP MSA-compliant Fibre Channel and Ethernet transceivers for optical communications equipment. The JXP Series meets the XFP MSA standard for 10-gigabit-per-second, small form factor, pluggable, datacom transceivers. The 850 nm model typically draws 1.65 watts and is for Ethernet or Fibre Channel link distances as long as 1,000 feet. Company officials are set to introduce a 1310 nm model later this year for longer reaches. The JSM and JSH Series small form factor pluggable (SFP) transceivers for Gigabit Ethernet or Fibre Channel are for high-density host cards. They have a bail latch and plus-or-minus 10 percent voltage tolerance for fluctuations that can result when several different transceivers plug into the same card. JSM and JSH models use less than 0.75 watts and operate at temperatures as hot as 85 degrees Celsius. For more information contact JDS Uniphase by phone at 408-546-5000, by fax at 408-546-4300, by post at 1768 Automation Parkway, San Jose, Calif. 95131, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.jdsu.com/.

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