More lasers in Europe

After the AKL conference, I had a chance to visit several more laser facilities in Germany and also in Lithuania.  As usual, visiting in person can be much more enlightening than hearing about things at conference venues.

Berlin has several world-class photonics companies, including two new ones—DirectPhotonics and Photonic Tools. DirectPhotonics, established in 2011, develops, manufactures, and sells ultra-high-brightness diode lasers. This market is currently dominated by fiber and disk lasers, but the goal is to replace these less efficient laser technologies by eliminating the need for a brightness-enhancing resonator. Leveraging patented technologies from Fraunhofer Institutes, DirectPhotonics has significantly increased the brightness of fiber-coupled and direct-diode laser systems. A key to entering this competitive market is not only a diode laser system with unprecedented beam quality, but also an architecture that is designed with manufacturability in mind. CEO Wolfgang Gries, an industry veteran, leads a venture-funded team that foresees a large expansion over the next few years. 


Located in the same industrial park is a new company, Photonic Tools, that has been established by another pair of industry veterans and entrepreneurs, Dr. Bjorn Wedel and Dr. Bernhard Lummer (formerly of High YAG). This new company will focus on ‘light engines’ for ultrashort pulse lasers and systems, providing everything needed to get the photons from the laser to the work piece. Both of these companies have access to brand-new buildings constructed to house-incubating companies, and provide an atmosphere conducive to innovation and growth. PT is privately funded, currently has about 7 employees, and has only been in the building a few weeks, but will have about a dozen people by end of June in planned expansion that will see first products shipping in late 2014 or early 2015.

The next stop was a visit to the Laser Zentrum Hanover. This is another of the fine laser centers of excellence in Germany. As an independent non-profit research institute for photonics and laser technology, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) performs innovative research, development, and consulting. The focus of the research is applied, again bridging the gap between fundamental research and manufacturing. Of particular interest to me were the glass joining and processing and also the micro-LAM. On a personal note, I got to play a few songs on guitar at the birthday breakfast party of one of the researchers!

Next stop—Goettingen! I had worked for Lambda Physik many years ago and it had been 18 years since I had been in this charming University town. The town has not changed much, but activity at the Coherent Excimer division has certainly changed. The big focus areas are annealing and LASIK. In fact, Coherent recently got the biggest order in their history for excimer annealing systems using Microlas beam delivery. Even excimer industry pioneer Dr. Dirk Basting was overheard saying about 10 years ago that "excimers were dead," but this is not true. Twenty-five years ago, if you wanted UV photons or "short-pulse" photons, excimers were about the only game in town. Now there are many other choices, but excimers, because of their high energy per pulse, short wavelength, and relatively short pulse lengths, still dominate in many applications.

Last stop—Vilnius, Lithuania. I went there to specifically check out Ekspla and Light Conversion, two companies involved in picosecond and femtosecond lasers and technology. I was not sure what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised by a number of things. First, each company has about 110 people and a brand-new building, with more space being built for planned expansion. Both companies provide OEM parts (like fiber oscillators) and private label equipment to most of the big laser companies. I did not know the extent to which this occurs, but I was shocked to see that most—if not all—of the major laser manufacturers have at least some components in them that were manufactured in Lithuania. I also found people that are highly educated, very proud of their business and their country, and "pro-Western." Everyone under 30 speaks English quite well and I can personally attest to the fact that they know Western music and are happy to sing along!  

Unfortunately, the timing of my visit was a bit wrong! I left on a Saturday morning of the big music festival weekend, so for personal reasons that would have been a great reason to stay a few extra days—if I had known in advance. From a professional point of view, it was a few weeks too early for the Laser Precision Microfabrication conference scheduled for June 17-20 in Vilnius (http://www.lpm2014.org/home-news/). This conference is held around the world and this year, it is in Vilnius! I would strongly urge anyone to visit the conference and take a few extra days to enjoy the great scenery, great food, and warm welcome.

Finally, back to decisions and there being just too many conferences...

This year, the MDM East show in NYC is being held the same week as CLEO in San Jose (week of June 9), so my next CA trip will have to wait until the Semicon show the week of July 7. More blogs will be coming over the summer months—so have a great summer and stay tuned!
 
I am always interested in hearing your thoughts concerning laser micromachining, the laser industry, comments on entrepreneurial endeavors, etc. AND...we are always looking for fresh, publishable material. Please feel free to contact me at rschaeffer@photomachining.com.



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