Local laser company leads the way

11 November 2002

A South African company that pipped overseas firms for a contract to produce high-tech laser systems for the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency (Nasa) made its breakthrough after being discovered on the Internet.

According to a report in Business Day, the company, Scientific Development and Integration, produces laser systems bought by Nasa for trace gas detection in the upper atmosphere – a contract it won after Nasa came across the company’s web site.

The company is also participating in a project that will see the large-scale manufacture of a new generation fighter aircraft. According to Business Day, the US aircraft manufacturer was in South Africa earlier this year to test a laser system developed by Scientific Development and Integration for inspecting the parts used to make the aircraft.

“A similar system exists in Canada, but the US aircraft manufacturer found our system to be at least five times more efficient than the Canadian laser”, director Lourens Botha told Business Day.

If adopted, the home-grown laser system could be installed not only at the US aircraft manufacturing plant, but also on aircraft carriers and at maintenance facilities worldwide.

Besides Nasa, the company’s pulsed infrared lasers have been supplied to major international aerospace players including the Chinese Space Agency, Daussalt Aviation, BAE Systems and Airbus.

Established in 1997 by four former Atomic Energy Corporation scientists, Scientific Development and Integration specialises in laser technology and the separation and enrichment of isotopes, and is developing a number of commercial and other applications for both.

Business Day reports that a US computer firm is testing one of Scientific Development and Integration’s laser systems for the annealing of silicon wafers.

The company’s laser isotope separation project will, according to the Scientific Development and Integration web site, “create economic quantities of C12 and C13, for use in the CVD diamond, abrasive diamond and medical businesses’.

Together with the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP), the company is also sponsoring an environmental monitoring project at the University of Natal, Durban, and aims ultimately to develop a prototype modulated diode laser system for online monitoring of industrial pollution.

And the company believes it has come up with a ground-breaking technique for treating Glaucoma, an eye disease particularly prevalent in developing countries, using a portable diode laser system. “The prototype system is presently undergoing clinical trials at local Universities, and should be ready for the market towards the end of 2002′, the company says on its web site.

Scientific Development and Integration qualified for funding through the Department of Trade and Industry’s support programme for industrial innovation in 1998 and 2001, and was recently highlighted as a prime example of SA’s capabilities in the aerospace sector by Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin.

SouthAfrica.info reporter