A team of U.S. Navy scientists working at the Naval Research Laboratory has recently developed a technique to additively manufacture microstructured optical fibers for laser power delivery and sensing applications, with high precision and rapid turnaround from design to production. The patented technology is available via patent license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.
Optical fibers can be used to route light from one point to another, with losses that depend on the design, material used, and wavelength transmitted. The choice of fiber geometry and design affects the degree of overlap between the propagating light and the material. The range of wavelengths that can be transmitted by solid core optical fibers are mainly limited by the material transmission. Alternative fiber designs are needed, where light can propagate in a hollow air core such as hollow-core photonic crystal fibers, to reduce or eliminate some wavelength transmission restrictions.
In response to this need, NRL scientists have discovered a way to additively manufacture fibers with a structured arrangement of holes that is not otherwise commercially feasible using conventional techniques, including tube-stacking and direct extrusion. The novel 3D printed die has multiple entrances to accept softened glass into multiple flow channels. These flow channels reduce in cross-sectional area along their length and combine to form features in the preform and terminate in a common exit aperture. The die can be a single piece, with preform tolerances orders of magnitude better than previously available. Furthermore, the die can be made significantly cheaper and faster.
The optical fibers produced from this method are in the general category of microstructured optical fibers and can have properties of other fibers including photonic crystal fibers (PCF), photonic bandgap (PBG) fibers, inhibited coupling (frustrated or anti-resonant) fibers, and multicore fibers.
- Fiber geometry and design can be manipulated to affect the overlap between the propagating light and material; allows for geometries not possible with other methods
- Applicable for UV, VIS, SWIR, MWIR, LWIR bands in the optical spectrum
- Can use multiple materials for die formation
- Creates complex continuous shapes and channels enabling material to be routed with precision
- Eliminates need for long flexible pins
- Enables manufacturing scale method previously not possible
- Fast development time, less hazardous waste, and cheaper dies significantly reduces costs
- Businesses can commercialize the technology by licensing U.S. Patent 10,370,280 from the Navy
- License fees paid to the Navy are negotiable
- Businesses that license the technology may have the opportunity to pursue collaborative research with the inventors
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