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April 19, 2021 / 2021 Tech 25

2021 Tech 25: RSL Fiber Systems lights Navy ships, other challenging environments

At a Glance Company: RSL Fiber Systems Industry: Manufacturing Top Executive: Giovanni Tomasi, President & CTO HQ: 473 Silver Ln, East Hartford No. of Employees: 6 Company Website: Phone number: 860-282-4930 See all 2021 Tech 25 honorees
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The fiber optics revolution of the 1980s helped inspire RSL Fiber Systems to become one of the guiding lights in the Hartford region’s tech universe.

Now President Giovanni Tomasi sees a newer laser-driven revolution propelling RSL in a range of new directions.

Contracts to supply innovative lighting solutions to the U.S. Navy remain at the heart of the business. RSL’s fiber optic technologies light the masts of several U.S. Navy ships as well as frigates of the Italian navy.

The system solves a variety of problems of traditional electrical connections in hard-to-reach places. It cuts maintenance costs and bypasses cable deterioration concerns.

RSL, which has six employees, has expanded its fiber optic scope to include lighting for areas where hazardous chemicals make traditional lighting dangerous. It also uses fiber optics to measure methane in coal mines and sense temperature changes in a variety of industrial settings.

Tomasi credits government research funding from the National Shipbuilder Research Program, Navy Manufacturing Technology Program and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health with driving much of RSL’s work in fiber optic development.

Recent developments in laser power transmission technology suggest new avenues for RSL. And Tomasi credits the cinema industry. When the pandemic closed movie theaters across the globe, the companies that supplied the laser projection technology to theaters went looking for new markets.

Professional connections led to RSL working with an Italian laser firm on new applications.

The next frontier for RSL is the offshore wind farms soon to launch across New England. The harsh environment seems ripe for the marriage of fiber optic and laser technologies, Tomasi says. RSL expects to use adaptive technologies to monitor the health of wind turbines’ electrical lines.

Tomasi sees the conditions as similar to those experienced aboard naval vessels, where RSL has experience, and ripe for RSL’s new knowledge of laser-projection technologies.

Much of RSL’s business is in government contracts, so the pandemic hasn’t had the kind of chilling effect that other industries have felt. Tomasi reports employment levels have been steady.

He says RSL works closely with Connecticut’s wealth of colleges and universities, which provide a steady flow of interns and new hires.

Tomasi describes RSL as a lean operation driven by the philosophy “stay focused but diversify.”

The firm’s roots are in New Jersey where Tomasi founded RSL Fiber Systems as a joint venture of Skyler Technologies and Wire-Pro Inc. RSL soon moved to Connecticut and never looked back.

In July 2020, Tomasi was named board chairman of the Connecticut Technology Council. He is quick to tout the many benefits of the state’s knowledge-based economy and urges creating more pathways to collaboration. He is often “on my soapbox” urging companies — even competitors — to work together on sharing best practices and driving professional development.

“Give 5, get 10,” he says.

While his office is miles from the coal mines and ocean environments where his products are in use, Tomasi says the benefits of working in Connecticut far outweigh any disadvantages.

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