Photo: © AFP
Optics and photonics solutions are leading to rapid changes within telecommunications. While advances are being recorded there remain challenges, such as developing enough laser technology that can be small enough for use in electronic devices.
What are the challenges facing a company working within the sector and what types of innovations are taking place? To uncover what happens behind the scenes, Digital Journal spoke with Sam Rubin, CEO of LightPath Technologies, Inc. (LPTH). The company is a vertically integrated provider of optics, photonics and infrared solutions for the industrial, commercial, defense, telecommunications, and medical industries.
Digital Journal: Can you provide a brief background on LightPath Technologies, Inc.?
Sam Rubin: LightPath is a fully integrated optical solutions provider advancing the incorporation of custom optics within tomorrow’s technology. LightPath is transitioning from a company that supplies optical components that allow our customers to design the optical system needed for their product, to a complete solutions provider that creates and delivers the system to meet those needs.
DJ: What are your key capabilities and products and how are you differentiated from competitors?
Rubin: LightPath can leverage vast optical engineering expertise and proprietary products and technologies to design and produce complete systems. Our ability to work with our customers to develop systems to meet their exact needs allows us to become an integral partner in their success. As that essential partner, LightPath can maintain ownership of the optical design with exclusive rights to the components used in the production, ensuring a long-term working partnership.
Key products for LightPath include:
Proprietary materials: As a longtime component manufacturer LightPath has developed several proprietary materials, which are key for infrared imaging. Currently the most commonly used material, Germanium, originates from China and Russia, with very little natural reserves elsewhere. LightPath’s own developed materials, as well as materials Licensed exclusively from government R&D work, offer an alternative to Germanium, resolving a key supply chain liability.
Multispectral Infrared Optical Systems: Currently, imaging in the infrared wavebands requires having different cameras for different wavebands. A Thermal imaging camera cannot work as a night vision camera, for example. A great part of this is due to the limited performance of existing materials. LightPath owns proprietary materials that can transmit and image in a wide range of infrared bands, enabling reducing the number of cameras needed. These materials have been specifically designed to work with our proprietary molding technology, enabling mass production of optics.
Precision molded and freeform optics: Replace multiple lenses in sophisticated optical systems with one or two freeform lenses. Freeform lenses have been a challenge to produce in volume. LightPath proprietary molding technology now enables the production and use of Freeform optics, a game changer in optical system design.
DJ: What is the importance of supply chain resiliency? What strategies has LightPath implemented to successfully manage its supply chain?
Rubin: I think the importance of supply chain resiliency has been proven to each of us through our experiences during the COVID pandemic, and with recent Geopolitical events. Toward supply chain resiliency, LightPath has pursued complete vertical integration. In particular, LightPath began, nearly ten years ago to make its own glass, which is as one imagines, a key part in any optical system. The US had in the past been a leader in development and production of optical materials. Today however, we rely heavily on materials coming from China. In particular Germanium, a key material in optics, semiconductors and photovoltaic cells. At LightPath we produce today synthetic infrared optical materials that can be a substitute for Germanium and Silicon. The DoD sees this as a high priority and has named Germanium as one of the key materials that the US needs to resolve the supply chain liabilities for. LightPath stands front and center in this effort, being a US manufacturer of alternative materials, with the largest manufacturing capacity in the US.
DJ: Where do you expect the optical technology industry to go in the next five years?
Rubin: Optical systems are increasingly being incorporated into everyday products today, and we expect that trend only to continue as more companies discover the potential of optics.
In the past, it was the case that our customers knew more about optical systems than we did, and therefore their need was for a component supplier, as LightPath had been until recently. Over time we have built expertise and are now in a position where the customer no longer must have in-house optical knowledge. We can provide an end-to-end optical solution that meets the customer’s needs and allow our customers to focus on their core competency. I think the optical technology industry will continue down a path of consolidation where producers of components fall by the wayside and complete optical systems providers thrive.