Mid-ir lasers growing four times faster than total laser market
The mid-IR laser market is relatively small when compared to the total laser market, but it is growing almost four times faster than the laser market as a whole. This growth is driven by technological innovation and makes the mid-IR laser market one of the more dynamic and exciting laser markets to follow.
The mid-IR laser segment, broadly defined as the spectrum that lies between the near-IR and far-IR segments, now accounts for more than a billion dollars of laser revenue per year. This segment, not including CO2 lasers used for material processing, covers a wide-range of mid-IR laser applications ranging from military to sensing to medical, which feature revenue growth at almost 20% per year.
Although the mid-IR laser segment is a smaller market overall, it has many interesting technology applications. Many mid-IR lasers, imagers, and sensors require cryogenic cooling to operate, which greatly increases their cost, weight, and size. In addition, producing fiber cable that can transport light at wavelengths longer than 2 µm is very expensive, so fiber-delivery of mid-IR lasers remains quite rare. This fact has hurt the market for materials processing using CO2 lasers because its close competitor, the fiber laser, delivers its energy via a fiber.
In the last five years, mid-IR lasers, mid-IR capable fiber, and mid-IR sensors and imagers have all greatly improved. Most of these devices now operate at room temperature, their size and weight have been greatly reduced, and their price has gone down. This has opened up a range of applications that were not possible just a few years ago.
One example of this is mid-IR QCL systems. QCLs have achieved a price and performance level that is increasingly attractive for applications ranging from military IRCM systems to spectroscopy, including a wide range of medical, scientific, research, security, and pollution monitoring applications.