Small companies do not have, necessarily, to be timid in their actions. Evidence of this is FiberWork, a company from Campinas specialized in the area of communications via optical fibers, which in a little more than four years in business has developed an innovative line of products, aimed mainly at the foreign telecommunications market. They are solutions that involve equipment of the latest generation, like the Optical S-Parameter Analyzer (Ospa), still with a limited use in Brazil, but which attends fully to the American, European and Asiatic markets.
It is an instrument for characterizing photonic devices – those that use lasers, optical fibers, displays – used in communications networks. Swiftly and accurately, it carries out multiple tests for these components, covering such aspects as dispersion, reflection, transmission, losses and polarization of the light signals (laser) that run along the inside of optical fibers. The Ospa uses an original technology, developed by researchers from FiberWork,capable of measuring all these parameters simultaneously, which avoids the use of several pieces of equipment.
The importance of the multiplicity of the Ospa’s functions lies in the increase of new technologies for photonic devices that have been incorporated over the last few years in the optic telecommunications market. The list is wide-ranging and includes filters, light dispersion compensators, multiplexers that group together various transmissions in a single signal, besides routers and couplers used in fiber optic networks. The characteristics of these elements have to be measured with precision, for a proper assessment and qualification of the equipment’s performance in practical applications. The market for which the Ospa is intended is the productive chain of the manufacturers of these devices. It will be presented commercially to the international market at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference&Exposition, which will take place in Los Angeles, in February 2004. This is the main optical communications fair in the world, and it brings together about 50,000 professionals from the sector. The launch is justified, because the American market accounts for something like 60% of the world total. To do so, FiberWork is negotiating a partnership with an American company that has a strong commercial share in the area of optical testing equipment and is to take care of marketing the products abroad.
FiberWork was born in the incubator of the Company Development Support Nucleus (Nade), of the Campinas High Technology Complex Development Company (Ciatec). Since 2002, when it came of age in the incubator, it has been installed in a business condominium of 1,100 square meters, the Campinas High Technology Company Center (see box below). Besides developing and producing the Ospa and other equipment for the sector of optic communications, the company offers services of the planning, specification, installation, training and diagnosing of optic transmission networks.
To develop the new equipment, FiberWork received funding from FAPESP’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE). According to electronic engineer Sérgio Barcelos, the company’s technology director and the coordinator of the development of the device, the Ospa is equipment for optical characterizations that has advantages over the two existing ones in the world – both from America – which despite having been developed after the Brazilian one, made it earlier to the international market. For Barcelos, the equipment will be very well received, because besides having superior technology, it costs less than the rival equipment. It is going to come onto the market at a price of around US$ 100,000, against the US$ 200,000 of the products from the other companies. Only 5% of the value of the equipment is made up of imported components, in spite of the fact that 65% of its parts come from other countries.
FiberWork has also developed a family of products made up of voice communication systems using optical fibers, which is aimed at companies responsible for installing networks of these devices. On the list of projects still at the development stage, there is a monitoring system for the security market, with photonic devices, and another one, called an Optical Cross Connection, which allies liquid crystals technology to optical fibers, in cooperation with the Renato Archer Research Center (CenPRA), of Campinas. Also at the preliminary stage of viability studies is a sensor with optical fiber for the oil industry to manage and control the production of petroleum inside the well, with the objective of improving the efficiency of the oil extracted and assessing marginal oilfields, at the stage of exhaustion. FiberWork’s focus is to take advantage of the rapid increase in the use of photonic devices in the telecommunications sector, when networks based on copper cables are starting to migrate to networks transmitting via laser using optical fibers, which, in turn, need test and characterization equipment. It is a market with great added-value and growing fast. “With equipment like the Ospa, there will be a drastic reduction in the costs for developing, producing and characterizing photonic devices, making these stages too more rapid and precise”, Barcelos believes.
Although the results of the research carried out in the country in this field are good, the production of optical devices for communications is very small in Brazil, because there is no demand for these devices for optic communication systems, particularly for telecommunications. “There hasn’t been the necessary investment in this area, and the sectors developing photonic devices and equipment have made little headway. We have fiber optic technology, but the country has lost ten years in the development and production of these products”, reckons Barcelos, justifying the need for an entrepreneurial activity in other countries, because of the small domestic market. The Ospa’s focus on the foreign market also occurs because this equipment is a tool for the development of other technologies, such as Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing, or DWDM. DWDM is an advanced system that makes it possible to increase the transmission capacity of optical fibers, to allow the traffic of data at rates of terabits (over a thousand gigabits) per second. “In Brazil, the development of DWDM is still incipient”, says Barcelos.
“We are seeking to work with this kind of technology, because it is the way to totally optic networks (also called photonic networks). DWDM is a system used by the majority of the telecommunications operating companies in the world. It was developed in the 1990’s, with its main precursor a small American company called Ciena, valued today at about US$ 20 billion”, he comments.Barcelos believes that the Ospa will not be rejected commercially for the fact that it is produced in a country still without any tradition in this kind of equipment. “The international market is not going to want to know in which country the equipment is made, the important thing is for it to meet their needs. If the Brazilian product is technically superior and cheaper than the rival equipment, our competitiveness will certainly increase”, he says.
Life after incubation
The Campinas High Technology Companies Center arose from a post-incubation project on the initiative of Professor Rogério Cezar de Cerqueira Leite, the municipal secretary for international cooperation, of the City Hall of Campinas in 2001, and director-
president of the Campinas High Technology Development Complex Company (Ciatec). Just like FiberWork, another five small former incubated companies – Bioluz, Optolink, Ecco, Saat and Elemed, which work in the segments of photonics (fiber optics, lasers, and optoelectronic elements for the telecommunications, medical-hospital sectors, etc.), advanced metrology, security equipment and software – are part of the High Technology Company Center. Created in November 2001, the condominium boasts 65 professionals, including seven doctors, nine masters and 12 engineers. This differential is reflected in the quantity of technological projects being carried out by the companies, eight in partnership with FAPESP and two with the support of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq).
Its administration is handled in a unified manner, with the general expenses parceled out amongst the companies and the variable costs, in accordance with the area occupied in the building, apportioned to the companies by Ciatec. Besides dividing the costs, another advantage lies in the exchange of information, experience and support amongst the participants who are working in complementary and sometimes similar areas in the field of photonics, and even have suppliers and customers in common.This synergy was decisive for another innovation – the foundation of the Technology Companies Association (AET), in July 2002. “We decided to create the association in order to advance on several fronts, bringing the companies new business”, says Paulo Ricardo Steller Wagner, a director of Bioluz and of the association.
The idea is to foster the companies- growth. “We took the initiative to take part in international fairs with a project sent to the Export Promotion Agency (Apex), of the Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade. The Brazil Photonics project provides for the export of Brazilian photonic products and includes nine companies from the Campinas region, four of them installed in the condominium”, says Wagner. “Apex has the structure for Brazilian companies to take part in fairs abroad and funds part of this participation.”
He sees the AET as a form of better liaison and representation of small technologically based companies in society, such as, for example, for publicizing their products at Brazilian and international fairs. The good news is that this experience is beginning to multiply. The Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Sebrae) of São Paulo has a project for making viable condominiums of small technologically based companies, following the experience of the condominium and of the AET.
For Iracema Aragão, who runs the association, one of the main objectives of the AET is to provide support for other small companies to develop condominiums with funds from the businesspersons themselves. “We want to spread out our know-how in the formation of technology-based condominiums with the objective of assisting small companies.” She intends to broadcast the synergy generated by the associative spirit of the technology-based companies in Campinas and to expand the number of the AET’s associates, which do not necessarily have originated in incubators.
Development of the Optical S-Parameter Analyzer (Ospa); Modality Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE); Coordinator Sérgio Barcelos – FiberWork; Investment R$ 33,620.00 and US$ 120,850.00