How Can Photonics Standards Help to Transform Our Digital Future?

Technological Innovations Call for Standards to Enable More Reliable, More Cost-Effective, and Safer Photonics Applications


We depend on photonics, or light-based technologies, every day in many different ways. From flat-screen displays to LED lights; from medical lasers to security surveillance systems; and from fiber optics for inexpensive, ubiquitous communications to photovoltaic solar cells, these are just a few examples of how photonic products and systems have transformed our daily lives.

Why are Standards Important for Photonics Technology?

A broader use of photonics technology would bring even more opportunities to make our lives better, but new photonics standards are needed in a growing number of areas to accelerate industry efforts to transform scientific breakthroughs into commercial products and systems.

That’s because while components such as optical fiber, lasers, LEDs, waveguides, optical transceivers and others have been around for decades in some cases, it is only in recent years that the industry as a whole has truly begun to come into its own.

Driven by technological advances, burgeoning new applications, lower costs, and an overall greater familiarity with photonics technologies, some 4,300 companies and over a million people in more than 50 countries are now involved in the field.

The great majority of these companies, though, are small- and medium-sized firms with diverse technical understandings, capabilities and experience. This means there is a great need to reduce technical ambiguity and develop greater clarity in definitions and other terminology. In addition, more effective and uniform test parameters and methodologies must be developed, and the identification and prevention of safety hazards is a top priority.

With increasing industry demand, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) Standards Board approved the IEEE Photonics Standards Committee in 2018 to spearhead development of photonics-related standards.

As a young, growing committee within the IEEE Photonics Society, the Standards Committee brings together industry leaders and technical experts from across the world. List of the published IEEE standards related to photonics technology:

Enhancing Reliability of Industrial Fiber Laser Products

The IEEE 2065-2020 standard, published in 2020, deals with the reliability of high-power industrial fiber lasers.

High-power industrial fiber lasers consist of an optical fiber doped with certain rare-earth elements as the lasing element. They have traditionally been used in metalworking (for marking, cutting, welding, annealing, etc.) and have many advantages over older CO2-based laser technology. These advantages include physical flexibility, high output power, better beam quality for cleaner cuts, and longer lifetimes.

These qualities are driving the growing use of fiber lasers in other applications such as telecommunications, spectroscopy, medicine, and defense and other areas. In telecommunications, for example, they are increasingly used to make long-haul fiber optic communications economical. In medicine, they are used for measurement, diagnosis, and treatment in products like endoscopes, to look inside a body cavity or organ. In defense, they are being considered for directed-energy weaponry. These are just a few of the diverse and growing new applications for fiber laser technology.

Driven by these opportunities, fiber laser manufacturers now offer a great variety of product types with differing technical parameters. But for users and manufacturers alike, confusion and misunderstandings about the suitability and effectiveness of these parameters often leads to power instability during operation, which impacts their reliability.

IEEE 2065-2020 aims to help manufacturers deal with this and other issues to produce more reliable industrial fiber laser products, by specifying uniform technical parameters and guidance on numerous factors that may impact reliability. These range from test methods, terminology and classification, to appearance, structural requirements, and usage conditions. Also, environmental suitability, safety and protection, inspection rules, marking/packaging, transport, and storage are considered as well.

Defining Performance Parameters for Fiber Optic Sensors

The IEEE 2067-2021 standard addresses fiber Bragg grating (FBG) interrogators. FBGs are filters within the core of an optical fiber, used to either reflect or transmit specific light wavelengths.

By taking advantage of the fact that external physical factors cause these wavelengths to vary, FBGs are used to measure temperature, pressure, humidity, strain, vibration, and other physical factors in a growing number of applications. They have many advantages over other sensor technologies, including electromagnetic immunity, light weight, flexibility, low cost, and high reliability.

The device used to monitor the wavelength variations within FBGs is called an interrogator, and the Photonics Standards Committee and industry representatives initially worked together under an IEEE SA Industry Connections program to perform a gap analysis on existing commercial FBG interrogators. The Industry Connections program is designed to help organizations and individuals to collaborate on incubating ideas for new standards and solutions. It offers an efficient, economical environment and a wide range of resources for building consensus and producing shared results.

The gap analysis showed that there was confusion on how to interpret the performance specifications of FBG interrogators, leading to problems and barriers to implementation for end-users. Therefore, this standard was developed to provide definitions and explanations of terms so that ambiguity in FBG interrogator specifications can be eliminated.

It also defines the key performance parameters needed to completely describe an FBG-based sensor system, which will enable end-users to readily compare systems from different suppliers.

Get Engaged in Developing New Standards for Photonics Technology

In addition to these new standards, IEEE Photonics Standards Committee has a number of other projects underway that are open to anyone to participate:

  • IEEE P2066 – Safety Specification of Laser Transmission in High-Power Industrial Laser System: This is expected to be the first IEEE standard focused on safety guidance for high-power laser systems. IEEE P2066 aims to establish a safety code for the design, operation, and maintenance of a high-power laser system in order to protect both people and equipment. It details safety measures having to do with thermal, optomechanical, and related effects in passive optical components and cables used in Class IV high-power industrial laser systems.
  • Study Groups: Two Study Groups arose out of discussions with key industry companies to investigate areas within the Integrated Photonic Systems Roadmap (IPSR), an extensive 2017 study by the AIM Photonics Academy that identifies market drivers and technology and investment needs for the photonics industry over the next 15 years.

One Study Group is focused on the topic of fiber attach (the addition of connectors to optical fibers), and deals with critical tradeoffs for transceivers with respect to geometry, optical characteristics, mechanical and environmental factors and tolerances.

Another Study Group is focused on process design kits, or PDKs, which are digital files that link the details of a fabrication process to the design software used to design a product that will be produced using that process. While there are many excellent photonics design tools there is also a need for further improvement, and efforts to meet the needs identified in the IPSR would benefit from  more mature PDKs.

Looking ahead, the IEEE Photonics Standards Committee will continue to drive standards development that fuel technological innovation in photonics. One emerging field that promises breakthroughs is quantum photonics powered by quantum computing. This technology uses the properties of quantum mechanics to encode, transmit, and process information, with the promise of revolutionizing information and communication technologies. As the industry progresses, however, a scalable and standardized platform for performing necessary tasks needs to be defined.

IEEE Photonics Standards Committee welcomes industry professionals and interested stakeholders to join the open collaboration and contribute to this dynamic industry, as photonics assumes a greater role in all of our lives. Learn more about the work of IEEE Photonics Standards Committee and join us in raising the world’s standards.

Author: John Kulick, Chair, IEEE Photonics Standards Committee

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