The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) provided an ideal backdrop when the state-of-the-art Photonics Prototyping Facility (PPF) was unveiled early this month.
The facility will not only benefit the local photonics industry but it will also enhance the development of photonics-based products, specifically the prototype-development phase and to test the market for acceptance of the planned product in the country.
It offers class 1 000 clean rooms, technical and optical equipment, ranging from electronic, mechanical and diagnostic equipment, for a variety of wavelengths.
According to the department of science and innovation (DSI), which fund the facility, it aims to expedite the product development of photonics technologies and devices through the project. It said this is in line with market needs to stimulate the growth and competitiveness of the South African photonics industry.
The department further wants to address the current lack of commercialised photonics products in South Africa. It also aims to achieve this by providing world-class specialised photonics facilities, technical support and scarce skills, such as optics and photonics, as well as networks needed to facilitate the development of prototypes.
Photonics applications, said DSI, are pervasive in all branches of 21st-century science and engineering and everyday life. These include:
- fibre optic information and communication networks and systems
- sensors and imaging systems
- illumination systems and displays
- applications in the energy sector, such as photovoltaic materials and systems and applications in manufacturing where photonics plays an increasingly important part as a tool that supports advanced manufacturing technology, such as 3D printing.
One of these projects also focuses on optical coherence tomography for the 3D extraction of fingerprints, according to the DSI. It said what distinguishes this innovation from other fingerprint acquisition devices is that it is capable of extracting both the internal (sub-dermal) and external (surface) fingerprint, in this way it makes it difficult for anyone who attempts to fool its detection system.
In addition, it offers a non-contact approach, which has applications that can be used in banks, mortuaries and forensic service facilities. The prototype has been developed and the team has received positive feedback from the trials.
Director-general of the DSI, Dr Phil Mjwara, said the establishment of the PPF represents a major milestone for the CSIR, industry and the national system of innovation as a whole.
He said the facility is part of the broader efforts by his department to support industrial and economic development that is driven by research, development and innovation.
Said Mjwara: “These initiatives are also key components of our contribution to national development imperatives as set out in the White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation and the South African Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan. Most importantly, they are a fulfilment of our obligation as government to develop interventions in support of the creation and utilisation of knowledge and innovation for industrial and economic development.”
His counterpart, Dr Thulani Dlamini, chief executive officer of the CSIR, also welcome the unveiling of the facility. He said the PPF has huge role to play in developing and supporting new and existing enterprises in the field of photonics, in order to improve their competiveness.
“This initiative is an important platform for the accelerated development of innovative products and technologies in photonics. This PPF will help to develop South Africa’s expertise in the area of photonics product innovation and development,” said Dlamini. He added that this will also stimulate the growth of the country’s photonics industry by forming small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) and sustainable jobs.
Dr Dlamini appealed to South African scientists, researchers, engineers, industries, SMMEs, as well as entrepreneurs and investors to make use of this facility and develop photonic-related products.