5 Non-LED Uses of Sapphire

Rubicon Technology may be best known as the worldwide market leader in sapphire for LEDs, but the company’s sapphire is being used in applications far beyond the lighting industry.

From semiconductor equipment components to camera lens covers, there are many intriguing uses for optical and non-wafer sapphire. Here’s a peek at five non-LED usages for Rubicon’s synthetic sapphire.

Rubicon1. Semiconductor Equipment  Components

More than 40 different semiconductor equipment components are made of sapphire. Due to its ability to withstand very high temperatures, extreme environment processing and harsh chemicals like fluorine plasma and many acids, sapphire is ideal for equipment such as plasma tubes, heater plates, lift pins and chamber windows.

2. Medical Component

Sapphire products are used in a variety of medical applications, including dental braces, surgical blades, laser delivery windows, arthroscopy lenses and skull pins. When compared with traditional metal alternatives, medical sapphire components provide advantages of optical transmission, transparency for both aesthetic and performance improvements, high durability and precision, and also can be utilized for procedures requiring active imaging as sapphire does not impact imaging processes like metal.

3. Infrared (IR) Windows

Sapphire windows of optical quality are already being used for military sensing applications on aircrafts and missiles. In fact, sapphire IR windows are now beginning to be used on private, commercial and cargo aircraft to assist with landing in inclement weather.

4. Wafer Carriers

Sapphire is so durable that it is actually used to support other brittle wafers that are being processed, such as gallium arsenide and silicon carbide. These brittle wafers are mounted to sapphire so they do not break or get damaged during transit.

5. Durable Lenses and Windows

One of the largest optical applications for sapphire is in the form of lenses and windows. Due to its hardness and wide range of transmission from UV to Visible to IR wavelengths, sapphire lenses and windows are ideal for use in applications where there is a possibility of impact, scratching, high temperatures, chemical interaction or other harsh conditions. These lenses and windows are used in a wide variety of applications, such as camera lenses, military rifle scopes and as windows for sensors and laser transmission.

We are just scratching the surface when it comes to optical and non-wafer uses for sapphire. As research continues and new applications are discovered, you will see sapphire included in different types of products. Who knows, you may soon be seeing sapphire used for the armored windshields of military vehicles or even in hip replacements!

LEDs and Medicine: Diffuse Optical Tomography Uses LEDs to Scan Brain

A look at current DOT testing

A look at current DOT testing

According to a report in BioOptics World, scientists at the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri have developed a new way to study the brain, diffuse optical tomography (DOT), a new non-invasive technique that relies on LEDs rather than magnets or radiation. While still experimental, it offers promise for a new non-invasive test for the human brain.

While it looks primitive now, DOT scans use LED light to measure brain activity. For a DOT scan, a subject wears a cap composed of many light sources and sensors connected to cables. A DOT cap covers two-thirds of the head and involves shining LED lights directly into the head. DOT images show brain processes taking place in multiple regions and brain networks, like those involved in language processing and self-reflection (daydreaming). It also avoids radiation exposure and bulky magnets required by positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) respectively.

DOT works best for patients with electronic implants that can be problematic with MRI testing such as pacemakers, cochlear implants, and deep brain stimulators (used to treat Parkinson’s disease). The magnetic fields in MRI may disrupt either the function or safety of implanted electrical devices while DOT doesn’t impact these types of devices.

How does DOT work? According to author Joseph Culver, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology, DOT can detect the movement of highly oxygenated blood flows to the parts of the brain that are working harder when the neuronal activity of a region in the brain increases. He told BioOptics World that, “It’s roughly akin to spotting the rush of blood to someone’s cheeks when they blush.”  According to the magazine, DOT works by detecting light transmitted through the head and capturing the dynamic changes in the colors of the brain tissue.

DOT has a lot of potential benefits for medicine concerning the brain.  Since DOT technology does not use radiation, doctors could monitor progress of patients using multiple scans performed over time without worry. It could be useful for patients recovering from brain injuries, patients with developmental disorders such as autism, and patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s.

Currently, a full-scale DOT unit takes up an area slightly larger than a phone booth, but Culver and his team have built versions of the scanner mounted on wheeled carts. The DOT device is designed to be portable, so it could be used at a patient’s bedside in the hospital or at home, in a doctor’s office, or even in the operating room in the future.

For more details about DOT, visit:

BioOptics World, DIFFUSE OPTICAL TOMOGRAPHY ABLE TO SCAN THE BRAIN WITHOUT RADIATION, MAGNETS, http://www.bioopticsworld.com/articles/2014/05/diffuse-optical-tomography-able-to-scan-the-brain-without-radiation-magnets.html

Nature, Mapping distributed brain function and networks with diffuse optical tomography, http://www.nature.com/nphoton/journal/v8/n6/full/nphoton.2014.107.html (registration required)

 

 

LEDs and Location – A New Way to Shop

Location, location, location. Location-based applications have matured a great deal since early navigation devices like Garmin and Magellan GPSs.  Location-based applications are very popular in smart phones. Using the location-based applications, you can tell your friends where you are and can find the nearest coffee shop.  These applications typically use a GPS chip inside the phone or even location technology called U-TDOA (uplink time difference of arrival). These are the same location technologies used for e-911.

The next generation of location based applications are moving indoors. These new apps can bring all kinds of new uses to the typical smart phone. Because these applications are used inside, they can’t rely on GPS or U-TDOA because these technologies need line-of-sight where walls and other obstructions can limit their effectiveness. These next generation indoor location apps rely on new location technologies such as Near Field Communications (NFC), a new version of Bluetooth called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon technology, RFID and even LEDs.

ABI Research predicts that the indoor location market will reach $4 billion US in 2018. Big companies are exploring the indoor location market.  Apple and eBay have announced that they’re going to use BLE iBeacon. Apple is actively looking to establish an iBeacon program that can leverage its installed base of iPhones and iTouch devices to provide mobile transactions and offers to retailers and their customers. Retailers such as Macy’s and American Eagle Outfitters are testing iBeacon.  Major League Baseball announced a new agreement to use iBeacon for the upcoming baseball season using Qualcomm hardware.

How do LEDs fit in? Several companies are looking to leverage light.  Philips is looking at one-way communication between networked LED-based luminaires and customers’ smartphones and a new system from ByteLight that uses a LED light fixture to communicate a unique identifier to individuals with smart phones using tiny pulses of light.

Philips recently shared a demo that uses a supermarket scenario using indoor location technology to guide a customer around a store to gather items for a recipe, and allows the store to send special coupons or offers to customers based on their location in the store.  The technology would operate based on the instantaneous response of LEDs in on-off cycles that could transmit data to the camera of a smartphone using light changes undetectable to humans in the store. The customer would need to download an app on their smart phone. Like the ByteLight application, the communication link from the LED luminaires to the smartphone would deliver location data and other offers.

Here’s a diagram from Philips that illustrates how their LED location application would work in a grocery store.

Philips Connected Retail Lighting System

Philips Connected Retail Lighting System

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Further Reading

LEDsMagazine, Philips Lighting demonstrates LED-based indoor location detection, technology, http://www.ledsmagazine.com/articles/2014/02/philips-lighting-demonstrates-led-based-indoor-location-detection-technology.html

RFID Journal, Retailers Test ByteLight’s Light-Based Indoor Positioning Technology, http://www.rfidjournal.com/articles/view?11474

FierceMobileIT, Indoor location market to reach $4 billion in 2018, predicts ABI, http://www.fiercemobileit.com/story/indoor-location-market-reach-4-billion-2018-predicts-abi/2013-10-18#ixzz2v7TLbqKe

General Lighting Brightens Up with LEDs

Clearlysapphire.com continues to follow the growth of LED lighting as well as sapphire and alternative substrates. This week, we’ll focus on a new report from Yole Developpement, a research firm that covers LEDs and the semiconductor industry.  Yole recently reported that the packaged LED market will grow from $13.9 billion in 2013 to $16 billion by 2018, driven mainly by general lighting and completed by display applications.  The report, Status of the LED Industry, details how LED-based general lighting has surpassed all other applications, representing nearly 39 percent of total revenue of packaged LEDs In 2012.

2013 packaged LED revenue by application.  The total market size is nearly $13B. (Source: Status of the LED Industry report, Yole Developpement, September 2013)

2013 packaged LED revenue by application. The total market size is nearly $13B. (Source: Status of the LED Industry report, Yole Developpement, September 2013)

Costs need to continue to drop to keep LED-based lighting’s momentum in the general lighting market according to the report’s author, Pars Mukish, market and technology analyst, LED for Yole Developpement.  He commented, “Cost represents the main barrier LEDs must overcome to fully compete with incumbent technologies.  Since 2010, the price of packaged LEDs have sharply decreased, which has had the consequence of decreasing the price of LED-based lighting products.”

Mukish notes that in order to maintain growth, the industry needs to continue reducing pricing.  He pointed out that while LED still has some potential for cost reduction, widespread adoption will require manufacturers to reduce costs on all components of the system such as drivers, heat sink, and PCB.

Yole also updates their reporting on the use of alternative substrates in the LED market.  This situation hasn’t changed since we last covered alternatives in these posts:  Clearlysapphire.com, Alternative Substrates – Dimming the Hype, http://blog.clearlysapphire.com/?p=496 and Clearlysapphire.com, Alternative Substrates for LEDs, http://blog.clearlysapphire.com/?p=293.

According to Yole, companies working on alternatives such as silicon and GaN still face major obstacles.  Mukish says the benefit of GaN-on-silicon LEDs depends on decreasing manufacturing cost by using cheaper 8 inch silicon substrates that can leverage fully depreciated and highly automated CMOS fabs. However, he maintains that GaN-on-silicon LEDs still suffer from low manufacturing yields and full compatibility with CMOS fab still needs to be achieved.  He added that GaN-on-GaN LEDs benefit from a lower defect density in the epitaxial layers, allowing the device to be driven at higher current levels and to use a lower number of LED devices per system.   However, he said that GaN-on-GaN LEDs suffer from low GaN substrate availability and high costs.

For Further Reading

iMicronews, Sample, State of LED Industry, SLI report,  http://www.i-micronews.com/upload/Rapports/SLI%20Sample.pdf

Compound Semiconductor, Yole: Inexpensive LED Solutions Pushing Adoption In General Lighting, http://www.compoundsemiconductor.net/csc/detail-news/id/19736834/name/Yole:-Inexpensive-LED-solutions-pushing-adoption-in-general-lighting.html

Novus Light Today, Yole Releases Status of LED Industry Report, http://www.novuslight.com/yole-releases-status-of-led-industry-report_N1675.html

 

New Applications for Sapphire: Aerospace & Defense, Part 1 of 3

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Range of sapphire products available from Rubicon Technology including large optical windows and other shapes for aerospace and defense.

Sapphire’s unique properties make it a perfect material for high-performance applications due to its optical transparency, physical strength, resistance to abrasion and corrosion, temperature durability, chemical inertness, and bio-compatibility. As a result, it is perfectly suited for extreme environments where material durability is just as important as optical clarity.

One extreme use case is in the aerospace and defense industry where there’s a need for rugged windows for targeting pods and missile domes, most notably for the US F-35 fighter jet, that may come in contact with harsh conditions from the harsh, gritty desert with extremely high temperatures to high altitudes with extreme low temperatures.

Market research firm Yole Developpement determined that non-substrate applications for sapphire in the defense, semiconductor and other applications represent 25% of the sapphire industry revenue in a new study.  The market represents a solid growth opportunity for sapphire makers.

While there is opportunity, innovation is needed.  Sapphire traditionally has been limited to smaller shapes and sizes using traditional growth methods.  As sensor technology and applications, in defense and aerospace in particular, have evolved, the size requirements for sapphire windows have grown substantially.  One company that is innovating sapphire crystal growth is Rubicon Technology.

In a recent paper, Rubicon’s Dr. Jonathan Levine, Director of Technical Business Development, detailed how Rubicon successfully produced very large sapphire blanks using a highly modified horizontal directional solidification process. This new method, named the Large‐Area Netshape Crystal Extraction (LANCE) system is currently able to produce crystals of several different orientations. The company plans to produce sapphire windows as large as 36 x 18 x 0.8 inches.

For Further Reading

Clearlysapphire.com Blog, Opportunities for Sapphire: New Applications & Markets Explained, http://blog.clearlysapphire.com/?p=426

Clearlysapphire.com Blog, How Large Can You Go? Sapphire Windows Grow Up and Across, http://blog.clearlysapphire.com/?p=409

Rubicon Technology, Synthesis and characterization of large optical-grade sapphire windows produced from a horizontal growth process, http://www.rubicontechnology.com/sites/default/files/Synthesis%20and%20Characterization%20of%20Large%20Optical%20Grade%20Sapphire%20Windows.pdf

Opportunities for Sapphire: New Applications & Markets Explained

Rubicon Technology announced the publication of Opportunities for Sapphire, a new white paper that examines markets that leverage the highly versatile material, sapphire.  Based on research from IMS Research, the paper takes an in-depth look at the demand for sapphire in key markets including LED, semiconductor and optical.  You can find the white paper on Rubicon’s new web site at http://rubicontechnology.com/resources/papers, but here’s a look at what you’ll find.

Sapphire has emerged as a versatile material in a range of industries for many varied applications.  Sapphire’s inherent physical attributes for durability, light transmission, chemical inertness and thermal insulation make it desirable for a growing list of applications in a range of markets.  The white paper examines the opportunity for the LED market in general lighting, backlighting and display and uses in industries like automotive.  It also explores sapphire applications for optical-grade sapphire windows, lenses and covers as well as semiconductor applications such as silicon-on-sapphire chips in radio frequency integrated circuits (RFICs) for RF antennas, as digitally tunable capacitors (DTCs) and power amplifiers in smart phones and other consumer devices.

According to white paper author Jamie Fox of IMS Research, high quality sapphire delivers great benefits to LED chip manufacturers gearing up for applications like LED-based general lighting.  “Every LED company we spoke to during the research for this paper purchases sapphire and benefits from the superior yields and quality,” writes Fox.  “Substrate demand in 2012 is estimated at 42 million two-inch equivalent wafers (TIE) and expected to grow to 57 million TIE in 2013 according to market research firm Displaybank.  As the lighting market grows into a more significant segment and larger, thicker wafers are utilized, sapphire demand will accelerate.”

“Opportunities for Sapphire” also discusses the role of sapphire in LED production, the emergence of the market for large diameter sapphire wafers and sapphire demand by application.

LED Sapphire Ingot Demand Forecast

LED Sapphire Demand Graphic WPPR

(source: DisplayBank)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The market has shown growing demand since 2010 with an expansion of the LED/LCD TV market and the growth of applications such as general lighting.

Green line indicates rate of growth per year

Key:  Demand in thousands of millimeters of two-inch equivalent sapphire