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Venture Spirit: Santec’s compass to attain ‘Optopia’

Article - March 6, 2023

“Optopia" is a word we created – optics technology plus utopia — to represent a global society supported by photonics technology.


“At Santec, our focus is to deliver new value to the world through innovations in photonics.”

Mototaka Tei, President, Santec Corporation

Since developing the world’s first “fully automated optical-fiber geometry inspection system” in 1984, Santec Corporation has supported the advancement of the fiber-optic communications industry.  A recognized pioneer in its field of photonics, the Japanese firm released the world’s first benchtop tunable laser – a popular instrument still used by researchers today – before going on to launch an advanced optical component product line that has been deployed globally in data centers, as well as metro, long-haul and submarine optical networks.

One of the company’s latest products is the seventh generation model of the TSL range of wavelength tunable lasers. This is used in applications such as photonic integrated circuit testing, quantum photonics, spectroscopy and sensing.

“We have almost 35 years’ experience manufacturing our TSL series of tunable lasers,” says Mototaka Tei, President of Santec. “It’s a successful product  and we have led the market since we first introduced the instrument in 1989. This is what we call a benchtop tunable laser, and 50-60% of its market is made up of researchers.

“We sell this to the top universities and scientists who are doing cutting-edge fiber optic and telecommunications research. Institutions like Harvard, MIT and Stanford; all the top researchers, have and use this instrument.  We are very proud of that and pleased that many research papers have been published pushing the boundaries of science using our technology.”

Santec’s expertise in micro-optics, advanced optical devices, tunable lasers, and optical testing and measurement paved the way for the expansion of its product lines into applications outside of telecoms.  For example, the bio-medical and optical metrology industries have benefited from the company’s 3D sensing and imaging technology.  This is based on Swept–Source Optical Coherence Tomography (SS-OCT), a technology which delivers incredibly detailed cross-sectional images of biological samples. This can benefit cancer diagnosis as well as image plaque in arteries for example.  It can also be used to measure material thicknesses with unprecedented precision. 

Launched in 2015, ARGOS is one of Santec’s products based on this technology. It is the most accurate instrument of its type and measures the key parameters of the human eye. This information is used in selecting the most appropriate lens to implant in cataract surgery.  ARGOS has really made a difference to the positive outcome of these operations and contributed to quality of life after cataract surgery, something which Mr. Tei is particularly proud of.

“For us, our engineers created an incredible instrument using our technology, but selling ophthalmic equipment was difficult. We partnered with Alcon, who are the world’s largest manufacturer of ophthalmic lenses that are implanted in cataract surgery,” he explains.

“They say that cataract surgery is simple, as it can take only 10-15 minutes for each eye, but measuring the length of the eye to find out which lens to put in is critical.  Our instrument can do that accurately. Our competitors in this market are in Germany, with a global customer base, but after entering the market in partnership with Alcon, we have been able to gain significant market share.”

Moving forward, Mr. Tei hopes to build more strong partnerships with overseas firms and institutions while also pursuing M&A opportunities, for instance in 2021 two North American companies were acquired to enter the cable assembly testing market. “We are always looking for collaborative partnerships, and in fact even now we have about five in Japan. For example, we have some of our staff embedded in Tokyo University, Kyushu University and Tohoku University,” adds Mr. Tei. “Overseas, we have one member of staff doing research in the University of Southern California as well as a successful factory partnership in Vietnam to manufacture some of our products.”

In other areas, Santec’s photonics technology supports the development of fiber-optic-dependent technologies such as cloud services, 5G communication and IoT. It is all part of the company’s mission to advance the creation of ‘OPTOPIA’, using a unique blend of photonic solutions in tunable lasers, advanced optical components as well as testing systems for communication, medicine, and metrology.

“Optopia is a word we created – optical technology plus utopia – to represent a global society supported by photonics. A society that will be warm hearted and enlightened. We call it a ‘Human Centric Information Society’. It is not machine centric, data centric, money centric or material centric. It is human centric,” explains the Santec president. “Warm hearted people helping each other with the help of advanced optical technology. Technology must contribute to human society and maintain a better world where people are happier. If you develop technology and society advances but people are not happy, that is not a good society. We want to contribute to making the world a better place, using our fiber-optic technology.”