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Powerlase boosts production area following rapid sales growth

05 May 2006

UK-based high power diode pumped laser developer Powerlase has reported dramatic growth in demand and consequently is expanding its factory area. optics.org interviews the company's sales manager about this growing niche marketplace.

Powerlase of Crawley, UK, a manufacturer of high power diode-pumped solid state (DPSS) lasers, has recently trebled its production area by moving into the adjacent 1200 m2 industrial unit and says it will also increase production threefold to cope with escalating demand from customers.

The expansion follows the company's 233% growth year-on-year and being listed by as "the fifth fastest growing venture capital-backed company in the UK" by the Daily Telegraph.

Powerlase mainly develops DPSS lasers for industrial applications such as in the materials processing and microelectronics markets for flat panel displays (FPDs), microelectronics, automotive and aerospace sectors. The company is supported by venture capital from MTI Partners, Deutsche Venture Capital, Cazenove Private Equity, Alice Ventures and FNI Venture Capital.

The company has seen a rapid growth in demand for its lasers as client industries are recognizing their suitability for a wider range of applications. In its expanded premises, more than 50% of the space will be dedicated to assembly, alignment and testing.

Another section of the new workspace will extend reliability testing of components and laser systems. The company also performs a substantial amount of testing in its applications laboratory on the Crawley site. Further expansion is possible in 2007, the company said.

"We are showing tremendous growth with our commitment to product innovation and customer service," says Tony King, Powerlase executive director and COO. "Our expansion reflects industry recognition of the application of these lasers in manufacturing, particularly our high power DPSS lasers in the field of ITO (indium tin oxide) ablation in the flat panel display markets."

"We are continuing to invest in research and development to ensure that this progress continues. Our expansion plans include the setting up of several dedicated applications and development laboratories, details of which will shortly be announced."

Powerlase's DPSS lasers are distributed worldwide but mainly to Asia for FPD manufacturing. Typically they are used to create pixels in ITO films. "We believe that laser direct patterning is highly competitive with current lithography process in terms of throughput," explains Duncan Cooper, Powerlase sales manager. "Our other significant markets are in microelectronics, automotive and aerospace sectors."

But in the industrial laser marketplace is the evolution of the fiber laser a threat to the DPSS laser? The fiber laser was recently reported to be the rising star of industrial processing.

"Clearly, companies such as IPG Photonics and SPI are doing well in their chosen markets occupied by the established companies in cutting, welding and machining, or in the low cost DPSS marking laser area, which is crowded with low cost Asian suppliers. A limiting factor for the fiber laser is that it is difficult to pulse or switch but it is a technology that all laser companies are watching."

"We recognize that fiber lasers do have some competition in cost and power. However, we think Powerlase's unique selling point is that we can deliver high power in short pulses and at high repetition rates - and with suitable beam properties needed for ablating ITO and other types of thin films. We are really in a different market sector."

This company believes it is the leader in FPD ablation but Cooper acknowledges that the market is not standing still. "Displays is not the only market for us. We have already started working on surface treatments and the surface engineering of thin films. Our growth plan includes other markets. For example, we already market a high power 532 nm green laser and there are other types we plan to develop further."

Powerlase is addressing the Asian marketplace currently through two key Asian distributors: Laser Spectronics in Korea; and Japan Laser Company. But the company has yet to seriously enter North America. "Asia is more obviously a live market at the moment while the US seems to be more fragmented," says Cooper.

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