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LightPath Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: LPTH), a vertically integrated leader global manufacturer and integrator of proprietary optical and infrared components and high-level assembliesannounced today that its Diamond Like Carbon (“DLC”) coating process for its proprietary Black DiamondMT (“BD6”) the chalcogenide-based material for making infrared (“IR”) lenses has now been qualified for all US military applications.
Sam Rubin, President and CEO of LightPath Technologies, said, “The military qualification of our DLC coating process for BD6 IR lenses is a very significant technological and manufacturing milestone for the company. Commercial production of high-durability DLC infrared coatings for optics manufactured at the company’s facility in Riga, Latvia began in early 2021, expanding our capacity for this technology already in place at our Orlando headquarters. The US military qualification, which generally sets the standard globally, for DLC coating required more rigorous testing and was recently approved after a lengthy review process.
“With the achievement of military qualification, we can now access the vast defense market with an even more compelling value proposition. The typical military contract requires high production volumes and competitively priced materials, which we believe to be our casting technology with BD6 glass and now the military qualified coating process allows it.There are few to no optical technology companies in the world that can match our end-to-end production capabilities at high volume, vertically integrated.We are clearly becoming an increasingly important partner for commercial companies developing engineering solutions for Department of Defense agencies, Defense Industrial Base (DIB), prime contractors and other IR optical imaging companies.”
Achieving military DLC coating qualification is consistent with the company’s recently obtained exclusive optical use license to manufacture products utilizing the IR patent portfolio developed and owned by the US Naval Research Laboratory (“NRL”) of the US Navy. DLC IR coatings can be applied to optics made from materials such as germanium, silicon and chalcogenides, furthering LightPath’s reach in the military and defense markets.
Agreement with NRL gives LightPath access to unique chalcogenide glass compositions to develop more comprehensive optical systems targeting some of the fastest growing IR markets, including the expected IR imaging market from $5.8 billion in 2020 to $8.3 billion by 2025.1 and the multispectral imaging market which is expected to grow from $10.9 billion in 2020 to $17.6 billion by 20252.
LightPath’s proprietary BD6 material is an ideal replacement for germanium optics and has many superior characteristics, such as lower cost, contains no rare earths, is lighter and has a wider thermal operating range. BD6 glass is a softer material that had previously deterred its use in applications where exposure to the elements was necessary, such as many defense use cases. LightPath’s recent military qualification of DLC coating solves this problem by stabilizing the outer surface of the lens and making it essentially impenetrable to external factors.
DLC coatings protect infrared lenses from harsh environmental conditions and are a requirement for many applications that require resilient coatings that can withstand severe abrasion. Applications such as thermal imaging for military and defense applications benefit from the protections offered by DLC coatings. Other addressable markets include firefighting, space applications including satellites and drones, infrared imaging, multispectral imaging, thermography, medical imaging and related diagnostics, security/surveillance and free-form optics for augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) headsets. With the implementation of LightPath’s new product development and capital investment strategies, optical manufacturing, optical assembly and high performance coatings can now be performed in a single facility, reducing time and is increasing coating capacity worldwide to meet current and anticipated demand.
LightPath intends to manufacture the bulk of IR NRL products in the United States at the company’s expanding headquarters in Orlando, Florida. The current proprietary BD6 material is manufactured in-house at LightPath’s Orlando facility, alongside multiple molding presses, processing equipment for high-efficiency anti-reflective coatings, and DLC machines for enhanced lens protection. LightPath manufactures more than 200 kilos per week of chalcogenide glass and could increase its volumetric capacity as demand increases.
LightPath’s BD6 glass for IR applications is made from chalcogenide materials which are increasingly replacing germanium and other crystalline materials for IR optics due to their low cost. Germanium, in particular, has been subject to rising or volatile prices due to the fact that the material is mainly sourced from China. LightPath began replacing its raw materials for infrared lenses by offering first BD2 and then BD6, a general purpose chalcogenide glass. Because BD6 or chalcogenide glass is lighter and more malleable, LightPath is able to mold lenses for commercial applications in larger quantities compared to the slower, more laborious and more expensive diamond turning of germanium glass lenses. which is a harder substance. NRL glasses offer a wide range of refractive indices and wavelength dispersion for optimal chromatic correction. Additionally, various thermal constants and mechanical properties provide optical designers with many choices for athermalizing optical designs. NRL glasses are ideally suited to the infrared imaging market which is expected to grow by more than 40% through 2025, which includes thermal cameras operating in the mid to long wave infrared bands and for applications such as thermography, diagnostics, security and monitoring.