The sweet smell of success

With the opening of its new Connecticut facility, Coherent DEOS proves itself a major player in the industrial laser market

That scraping sound you're hearing is me dragging my soapbox out for this month's editorial. No I'm not going to harangue you in response to some perceived slight, corporate mischief or company incompetence. Instead I'm climbing up to sing praise for a company that reinvented itself and in the doing became such a potent factor that it was absorbed by an industry giant, becoming a key part of that company's product line.

I'm speaking about DeMaria Electro Optical Systems (DEOS), known since 2001 as Coherent DEOS. This is a true success story. Created as a result of corporate downsizing—United Technologies was "returning to it's core businesses"—DEOS was the brainchild of a half-dozen former employees of United Technologies Optical Systems laser business.

Like a lot of presumptive entrepreneurs, the group thought the waveguide CO2 lasers they developed and were selling as "one-of" products to the defense industry could be commercialized. It's an old adage that the worst marketers are scientists working in R&D, especially those associated with government programs.

But DEOS was different, it had a leader with vision, Dr. Anthony DeMaria, better known to all as Tony. He knew that the nascent company could live on government contracts and scientific laser sales but that to grow and become a factor it would need to develop and market commercially accepted products.

So in 1994, with investment from the founders, some support from the State of Connecticut and revenues from government contracts DEOS set out to be a supplier of low-power, RF-excited, sealed-off CO2 lasers.

As I said there was a difference—they had Tony DeMaria, a quiet, low-key, scientist with an appreciation for the industrial world. He has two great attributes; he is a questioner and a listener. I recall a luncheon that occurred a few years after DEOS was up and running during which Tony and the core group of entrepreneurs listened to my perspective on the industrial laser market. I was also on a soapbox that day, yammering away about reliability and quality issues. They all listened politely, but Tony listened intently.

Segue to July this year and the official ribbon cutting at the 55,000-square-foot Coherent DEOS facility. Tony and I are again sitting at lunch and I am complementing DEOS on its arrival as a major factor in the sealed-off CO2 business. He tells me that success came as a result of hard work, good people, luck and market timing. The hard work, he said, was to design and build a compact, rugged, reliable unit that answered the needs of industrial customers. Then reminding me of the earlier luncheon, he said with his trademark pleasant smile, "I am a good listener."

Indeed he is. The lasers from Coherent DEOS are now widely accepted by industrial laser systems integrators for their reliability and ease of integration. The two-year-old merged business unit is booming. Corporate officials politely declined to comment on production figures, citing SEC rules about public company disclosures at non-public meetings, but they did smilingly say that production was in the thousands, which includes both the DEOS Gem series and the higher-power Coherent Diamond, for industrial, medical and scientific applications.

The new facility, a rebuild and expansion of the original quarters, is a showplace. A far cry from the early days when I chastised the founding wonks for mounting only photos of government projects on their walls. These, I suggested, be removed when entertaining prospective industrial customers. Again somebody was listening because today's wall art definitely has an industrial leaning.

David A. Belforte

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