Twelve companies have banded together to form a new trade association focusing on the fiber optic sensing business. The new group, the Fiber Optic Sensing Association (FOSA), officially launched on 24 April 2017, and is slated to hold its first public meeting on 17 May.

In a press release accompanying the association’s 24 April unveiling, the organization’s executive director, Thomas Cohen, said that FOSA would “educate key players in all sectors and promote awareness of fiber sensing technology to help accelerate the use of this critical technology.” The organization also stressed the rapid growth of the business, citing a report from BCC Research suggesting that the market could reach a size of US$3.2 billion in five years—a compound annual growth rate of 9.9 percent relative to the estimated 2016 market size of US$2.0 billion.

Eclectic group

Fiber optic sensing uses changes in the light signal carried in optical fibers to sense strain, temperature and other parameters. It’s an area of active current research, and already finds considerable use in environmental and infrastructure monitoring and security applications. The business also has potential uses in medical monitoring and the energy sector that are gathering steam, according to the BCC report cited by FOSA.

Not surprisingly, given the breadth of the market, FOSA’s founders constitute an eclectic group. The list includes two very familiar brand names in fiber technology, Corning Inc. and OFS; the Canadian fiber component company OZ Optics; and three cable providers, the U.S.-based Dura-Line, the Japanese-owned firm AFL Global and the Italy-based Prysmian Group.  The founding group also includes four pure sensing plays—two U.K.-based companies, OptaSense and Fotech Solutions; Frauscher Sensor Technologies USA; and the Swiss company Omnisens.

Rounding out the list of FOSA founders are two companies invested in specific market segments: Ditch Witch, a subsidiary of Charles Machine Works that sells pipeline installation equipment; and Integrated Roadways, a U.S. start-up firm built around a vision of “smart” roadways, with meshes of fiber optic sensors as an integral component.

Infrastructure play?

The formation of FOSA comes at an interesting time for the fiber optic sensing business. In addition to the potential of medical and energy markets, two recent areas of emphasis—the challenge of crumbling infrastructure and the emerging Internet of Things (IoT)—could hold substantial future promise for the business.

Infrastructure in particular was a hot political issue in the last U.S. presidential election, with both major-party candidates promising huge new government expenditures on the problem. While that promised spending has not materialized since the election, the potential for new infrastructure expenditures to create jobs remains a tantalizing political plum. Most visions of infrastructure spending, further, include an IoT-flavored component of “smart cities” or “smart infrastructure” in which photonic sensing technology could play a key role.

The agenda of the first FOSA meeting on 17 May appears to reflect these themes. The part of the meeting that is devoted to fiber optic sensing technologies includes discussions of “smart roads,” the bailiwick of FOSA member Integrated Roadways, and of “fiber optic sensing in large construction projects.”