Demand for plastic optical fiber in automotive and computer local-area networks could take over as a replacement for copper wiring as early as next year in the wake of new developments. In May, Boston Optical Fiber Inc. in Marlborough, Mass., became the first and only U.S. company to make graded-index POF commercially. The firm is one of two to license the technology from Japanese inventor Yoshiro Koike.
GIPOF technology allows for greater band width that can carry more data over longer distances in computer LANs, at speeds that approach that of glass fiber and at a lower cost. Its cost averages half that of glass fiber.
Boston Optical President Ed Berman said there has been a ``tremendous surge in activity and demand'' for GIPOF. The company is part of an industry consortium working to develop GIPOF. The group consists of General Motors, Honeywell and Boeing and is funded by a $6 million grant from the Pentagon.
A consortium in Japan made up of Sony, NEC, Toray and Toshiba also is working to develop the technology further. NEC America Inc., which manufactures electronic devices for the optical fiber industry, has improved POF dispersion so it is usable for voice, video and data transmission.
Mitsubishi Rayon of Japan, which also licenses the technology from Kioke, is developing POF. Ken Eben at Mitsubishi International in New York, the U.S. representative for POF, said the company plans to introduce its new step-index POF, the Eskamega, and make it commercially available within a month. The new fiber will have a transmission capacity of at least 30 times that of older POF.
Another Mitsubishi Rayon development, the Eskagiga, a GIPOF product, is still in the development stage, Eben said. It promises the ability to transmit over longer distances.
Although the two companies continue to work on materials that will allow high-speed, long-distance communications, Eben said there are still ``theoretical limits'' to that technology.
In April, 3M Co. and Lumenyte International Corp. announced an agreement that gives 3M exclusive rights to manufacture and sell fiber optic lighting products to the automotive market using Lumenyte's technology.
Lumenyte, based in Costa Mesa, Calif., developed technology that provides the transmission of light through POF from a single source to multiple interior and exterior locations on a vehicle. Dave Brown, 3M project manager in St. Paul, Minn., said the industry trend is toward central lighting sources.