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IPG speeds UV laser development with Mobius acquisition

14 Mar 2013

Fiber laser leader expands technology portfolio with buy-out of the Silicon Valley firm.

The market-leading fiber laser company IPG Photonics has signaled the growing importance of short-wavelength sources with the acquisition of California-based Mobius Photonics.

IPG said that the deal, for an undisclosed sum, would accelerate its entry into the ultraviolet laser market and add to its development expertise in a field that is seen as increasingly important for applications in fine processing and microelectronics production.

Saying that the UV market could be “a significant sales driver for IPG Photonics in the coming years”, IPG’s CEO Valentin Gapontsev added:

“The market has been waiting for a cost-effective, reliable and stable UV fiber laser. Now that we can combine Mobius’ UV laser expertise experience with IPG’s low-cost, proprietary fiber, pump diode and component technologies, we believe that we can effectively build a presence in the fine processing market.”

The deal follows recent moves by rival firms Coherent and Newport to enter the industrial UV laser space. At the SPIE Photonics West trade show in San Francisco last month, Newport’s Spectra-Physics division launched its “Quasar” UV laser, a hybrid fiber/solid-state design producing an average power of more than 40 W at 355 nm with tailored pulse shapes and aimed at micromachining applications.

At the same event, Coherent released its “AVIA 355-33” Q-switched solid-state source for micromachining, offering 33 W of output at 355 nm and with a 110 kHz repetition rate, while Mobius launched its “G2” fiber laser capable of delivering up to 30 W at the same wavelength, and with a repetition rate adjustable up to 2 MHz.

Intellectual property
In a technical conference session at Photonics West, IPG’s CFO Tim Mammen had highlighted the growing importance of the UV and green wavelengths for fiber lasers, and said that IPG would be introducing a UV laser “very shortly”.

Mammen estimated that although fiber lasers had enjoyed huge success in marking and welding applications, their penetration of the fine processing market remained very low.

One crucial aspect of the acquisition is the intellectual property that Mobius brings to the table. IPG highlighted that as part of the deal it had gained an exclusive license of US patent 5,745,284. Entitled “Solid-state laser source of tunable narrow-bandwidth ultraviolet radiation” and filed by Harvard scientists in 1996, it was subsequently licensed by Mobius in 2007.

Seen as a broad-based piece of IP, the Harvard patent covers frequency conversion of infrared light to the UV spectrum in either conventional solid-state or fiber-amplified formats, and the use of fast modulation to suppress Brillouin scattering.

Patents to tailor pulses
More recently, Mobius has been granted two further patents relevant to UV sources for micromachining and fine processing applications. US patent 8,009,705 – granted in August 2011 - covers a fiber-based master oscillator fiber amplifier (MOPA) arrangement that uses photonic crystal fiber to negate the effects of stimulated Brilloiun scattering, and which is capable of delivering high-peak-power, square pulses useful for industrial applications.

That was followed last year with US patent 8,160,113, which covers the production of tailored bursts of laser pulses without requiring an acousto-optic modulator or Q-switch. In that patent, Mobius scientists wrote:

“The optical system allows control of individual pulses within a pulse burst where the pulse characteristics such as pulse energy, peak power, and pulse width can be controlled on each individual pulse. Furthermore, such control can be accomplished with a nominally constant pump power to the power amplifier. Such an optical system can provide an unprecedented level of control in material processing applications.”

Though the amount paid by IPG to acquire Mobius and related IP was not disclosed, the companies did reveal that Mobius had posted revenues of approximately $1.4 million in 2012. As well as developing UV fiber lasers, Mobius sells sources used in super-resolution microscopy (and employed, for example, by Stefan Hell’s groundbreaking research team at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany).

Currently based in Mountain View, the Mobius team will now become part of IPG’s Silicon Valley Technology Center.

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