For the fifth time in 8 years, ultrashort-pulse (USP) laser experts met in Aachen, Germany for the UKP Workshop ('K' stands for the German word for short—"kurz"). This is the first time I have been to this venue, as I usually have to choose between attending the big laser show in Munich (June) or this show—but 2019 is a good year in that I am attending both! Almost 200 people were in attendance and, as Keynote Speaker Dr. Eric Mottay noted, there is no BS'ing in this crowd!
Dr. Mottay started off with a great perspective entitled, "High Throughput Processing with Ultrafast Lasers – What's New for Applications and Technology?" His talk was a perfect introduction to the main points of interest at the workshop—discussions concerning the history and current status of USP (UKP, UFP, etc.) laser sources; new processing strategies involving high speed scanners, diffractive optics, and other beam delivery innovations; materials interactions with specific pulse length and wavelength combinations; applications development; and marketing perspectives. One of the things discussed is the possibility of using gigahertz-pulsed processing, where a tight burst of gigahertz pulses is delivered to the material instead of a single pulse. This topic was explored by a few of the later speakers and seems to hold some promise for optimizing some applications. Of course, to use this capability, all of the components must be capable of performing the necessary tasks—the laser must be capable, the optics must be capable, the triggering system must be capable, etc. The real takeaway for me was the strong statement that no one company can develop all of this technology by themselves—for the market to grow, it will require cooperation between many different entities. This theme was repeated, even by big companies like Trumpf, throughout the workshop and I found it highly gratifying.
This was the spirit in which the rest of the workshop talks were held. The ILS Editorial Advisory Board was well represented—beside me, there was also Andreas Thoss and Dr. Kunihiko Washio. You can find feedback from Andreas in Laser Focus World here.
I thought it quite interesting and a lesson in perspective when I chatted with Andreas after the talks about what we liked and disliked. The very talk that I liked the least, he thought was the best. My reason for not liking it was that I thought the presenter pretty much read from a company specification sheet. His reason for liking it was not the presentation, but the fact that someone had taken all of the elements of the many other speakers and actually managed to put it together into a production system with identified markets.
Once again, the workshop marketing team did a fabulous job of organizing things and making everyone feel at home both at the venue (a luxury area at the local soccer stadium) and in the Aachen area. There were a couple dozen vendors and I would imagine at least that many more were trying to get space, as the venue was sold out. Next time (April 21-22, 2021), they will need a larger space assuming the growth and interest continues, and I see no reason to assume otherwise. The workshop dinner was held in an ancient spa in downtown Aachen, just one of many cool buildings in the town. This was a great networking opportunity with time to talk before, during, and after a buffet-style dinner. Because this venue is smaller, there is no need to miss interesting talks because of simultaneous scheduling. All in all, if anyone is interested in USP laser processing and wants quality time listening to very good talks and discussing details with experts, this is the place to be.
On the Friday following the event, the Fraunhofer marketing team, primarily Axel Bauer and Silke Boehr, were kind enough to arrange a personal visit to the labs for meetings with many of the researchers. To fit everything into one day, we focused on micromachining with USP lasers and additive manufacturing. Even so, it was a full day. I had toured the labs many times before, but as always at an AKL event, there were prepared routines and lots of people mingling around. It is nice to get a perspective of normal daily activity and how things are approached. I learned a lot, especially about laser additive manufacturing. Only a couple of years after putting up one new photonics building where small companies can be spun out of the Institute, another is already in the works.
I am returning to Germany for the big laser show at the end of June, and I plan to stop by Aachen along the way just because it is a great place and there is a lot of activity there. The UKP Workshop was a great venue to push forward my cataloging of involved companies and I will be collecting information very soon so that I can finalize in Munich.
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