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Covid-19 update: 07 May 2020

07 May 2020

A round-up of this week's coronavirus-related news and countermeasures from the photonics industry.

Barcelona, Spain-based photonics research center ICFO has announced it will begin a gradual reopening of experimental activities. ICFOnians have spent almost two months at home, prioritizing community safety and often working from home to contain the spread of Covid-19.

ICFO management this week stated, “Researchers have shown great dedication to ensuring that all possible activities of the center have continued, proactively carrying out all types of tasks that can be done remotely, engaging in webinars and online training and exchanging experiences. Most ICFOnians will continue to work remotely, but are also now prepared to begin a gradual reopening of ICFO’s experimental facilities.”

After the successful completion of a pilot-phase launched to test and refine the new protocols and processes that will be in place from now on at ICFO premises, starting this week, a limited number of researchers will be granted access to facilities to conduct experimental activities.

The statement continued, “ICFOnians share with the rest of the world the responsibility to contribute to solving the Covid-19 crisis. We are convinced that responsible science will be a key part of the way out and of the future of our societies at large. Therefore, we redouble our efforts to carry out the research activities of the institute, which seek to make the world a safer, cleaner and better place.”

High color purity 3D printing

ICFO researchers have reported on a new method to obtain high color purity 3D objects with the use of a new class of nanoparticles. Selective powder sintering for 3D printing has recently become an increasingly affordable solution for manufacturing made-to-order elements of almost any shape or geometry.

The technique involves heating a bed of powder (such as polyamide, PA12) to just below its melting point, using an IR light source to selectively melt a cross section of the powder, then adding more powder and repeating to form a 3D object. To reduce costs and increase printing speed, a photothermal sensitizer is often added to the powders.

Typically carbon-based, with a strong broadband absorption, adding these sensitizers to the polymer powders increases the conversion of incident light to heat, which means greater print speeds. However, carbon-based sensitizers can only produce black or gray objects. To create white or colorful prints, visibly transparent equivalents are needed.

In the new study, reported in Nano Letters, the team of researchers has reported on using nanoparticles made of tungsten oxide (WO3) as the photothermal sensitizers for polymer powders. The results of the study open a new pathway for the use of plasmonic nanoparticles that can be used to produce high color quality 3D-multicolor objects for advanced manufacturing processes.

Laser sintered samples by using PA12 powder and gold nanoparticles (GNRs), tungsten oxide (WO3) and carbon-black-based sensitizers (CB).

Most UK photonics firms maintain production

Analysis of the first 200 responses to the UK’s industry organization Photonics Leadership Group (PLG)’s survey of the impact of Covid-19 measures on photonics and acoustics industries reveals that 85% of manufacturing organizations have been able to continue production, with half of these organization reporting “only a minor impact” on capacity. The impact has been more severe among those providing high-value services, particularly to acoustics where one third of firms report more than a 50% drop in short-term turnover.

The strong resilience of photonics and acoustics is being demonstrated by half of all photonics companies and one quarter of acoustics organizations indicating they have no intention to apply for Government financial support. Seven out of ten respondents overall indicated they were making use of, or intend to make use of one or more of the UK government business support schemes, with 1 in 20 indicating they had difficulties securing support.

Across all photonics and acoustics organization it is the impact on the order pipeline that is causing greatest concern with many reporting a significant lengthening of the sales cycle and difficulty closing new orders. More than half of all manufacturing organizations also highlight difficulties in importing key components in their top three challenges.

Looking to the future, the general prevalence of uncertainty is supported by ~20% of respondents saying it is too early to predict what the impact will be in a years time. However where people did express an opinion ~30% currently predict business turnover and investment will return or even increase over pandemic levels in a years time. The potential for the pandemic disruption to foster new innovations is supported by one half of all respondents predicting new product development plans will remain the same or even increase.

Aside from the lifting of stay-at-home social distancing restrictions more than half of photonics and acoustics organization report the ability to have face-to-face meetings and access to customers will be important to getting back to pre-virus business levels. Notably, the removal of European and intercontinental travel restriction is much more important to photonics and acoustics manufacturing organizations – a reflection of the international markets they address. Nevertheless, nine out of ten respondents still predict a significant increase in remote/home working and the use of virtual remote meetings in the longer term.

Seoul Viosys, a developer of short wavelength LED products and technology, has announced that it earned KRW 87 B ($71.1 M) in consolidated revenue for the first quarter of 2020 and operating profit of KRW 2.7 B ($2.2 M).

Q1 revenue increased by 10% year-on-year (YoY). The company stated that, “favorable demand for its Violeds (UV LED) products for sterilization purposes increased due to outbreaks of viruses.” However sales of visible LEDs have slightly slowed. Consequently, “Seoul’s overall sales have grown in double-digit numbers for the past consecutive quarters,” the statement added.

“For first quarter revenues from manufacturers of LED chips in other countries have been expected to decline due to both seasonal slowdown and the Covid-19 impact. However, Seoul is turning this global crisis into an opportunity and is responding to change in market demands with our full wavelength LED portfolio including short wavelength Violeds products, which offer a lifetime of more than 50,000 hours.”

The company said that its R&D spending and selling and administrative expenses (SG & A) were also significantly reduced by 32% and 15% YoY respectively, driven by “continuous cost reduction”. The company added that it will continue to reasonably reduce the ratio of R&D spending to improve margins. Looking ahead, Seoul expects that the increased demand in Europe and US for its Violeds, which are claimed to sterilize 99.9% of Covid-19 [contamination] within 30s, will continue to drive sales growth even after the second quarter.

Corning withdraws its full-year 2020 guidance due to Covid-19 impact

Glass, ceramics, and optical technologies giant Corning has also reported its first quarter 2020 results, which it describes as “solid – while responding to Covid-19 pandemic”. The company also stated, “Given the economic uncertainty and disruption created by Covid-19, the company is withdrawing its full-year 2020 guidance. Corning’s headline figures (according to GAAP) are as follows:

  • Sales totaled $2.4 billion; core sales were $2.5 billion
  • Earnings per share was $(0.16); core EPS was $0.20
  • Net loss was $96 million; core net income was $177 million

The company stated, “In response to the pandemic, the company has been and will continue focusing actions on three core priorities: preserving the financial strength of the company, protecting employees and communities, and delivering on customer commitments.”

Wendell P. Weeks, chairman and CEO, said: “We, like all companies, are being impacted by the escalating global economic and health consequences of the pandemic. In the first quarter we took actions to navigate through these unprecedented times and will take additional actions in the second quarter.”

Tony Tripeny, executive VP and CFO added, “In the first quarter, our businesses held up well, as we effectively executed our strategy despite the growing impact of Covid-19. Anticipating lower sales, we are adjusting our operating plan to reduce costs and capital spending. We have essentially no debt coming due over the next two years, and we plan to maintain our dividend and have paused share buybacks. We are committed to preserving the financial strength of the company.”

NeoPhotonics, a developer of PIC-based modules and subsystems for optical communications networks, has announced financial results for Q1, 2020.

  • Revenue of $97.4 million for the quarter, up 23% YoY
  • Gross margin was 30.5%, up 11% YoY

"We are pleased to deliver another profitable quarter, notably through our seasonally low first quarter, in spite of supply chain risks related to the pandemic," said Tim Jenks, Chairman and CEO. "The industry continues to move in our direction with ever higher speed over distance requirements, which are satisfied by our narrow linewidth lasers, high baud rate coherent components. We are optimistic about our future."

Considering the outlook for the quarter ending June 30, Neophotonics forecasts revenue of $94 to $102 million, a gross margin of 29% to 33%; and operating expenses of $27 to $28 million (all figures GAAP). This outlook includes approximately $10 million of Covid-19 pandemic-related impact to the expected Q2 revenue, reflecting identified supply chain risks.

AlluxaMad City Labs, Inc.Iridian Spectral TechnologiesUniverse Kogaku America Inc.Berkeley Nucleonics CorporationHÜBNER PhotonicsSPECTROGON AB
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