24 Jan 2007
Newport's recent acquisition of Picarro's laser business could be worth up to $7 million in sales in 2007, and also fills a significant gap in its life and health sciences portfolio. James Tyrrell interviews Newport's CEO, Bob Deuster, to get an update on the company.
In mid-2004, Newport acquired Spectra-Physics as part of its strategy to become an integrated solutions supplier. Two-and-a- half years later and looking to strengthen its position in the growing bioinstrumentation sector, Newport has now added Picarro's laser products business to its books. OLE talks with Newport's CEO, Bob Deuster.
OLE: Going back to the Spectra-Physics acquisition, what did this mean for Newport?
BD: Before the acquisition, Newport was essentially everything but the light source. Buying Spectra-Physics allowed us to integrate all of the elements needed to make a photonics solution work. It gave us the ability to make, manage and measure light.
What are the benefits of taking an integrated approach?
If you have all of the pieces of the puzzle then it makes it easier to optimize the solution. We can design systems for customers that incorporate everything from the light source to the optical train and motion control technology. We can also integrate any vibration isolation capabilities that are required.
Since we put Newport and Spectra-Physics together two-and-a-half years ago, customers have begun to realize the benefits not only in terms of performance, but also in terms of the efficiency of buying products this way. For example, let's say that you are outfitting a complete lab. We would work with the customer from both a design specification and product installation perspective, and offer them as many products as they needed to get the whole experiment running.
When you look at big purchases by research customers, they are effectively looking at how to best utilize their budgets. Incorporating all of the technology in a single package makes the transaction more efficient for the customer and helps to reduce their purchase overhead. We can also take into account what they need from a spares and servicing perspective.
What else do you need to make the strategy work?
Being an integrated supplier is about having the products and technical expertise, but you cannot forget the geographical aspect. Much of the growth in the use of photonics technology is not just in the US or Europe, it is also in Asia. So, we're scaling our capabilities to match those key customers' needs around the world. The global aspect is very important.
How does the acquisition of Picarro's laser business fit in?
We aim to focus on the most important applications for growth. Our key strategic markets are research, which includes aerospace and defence, microelectronics, high-finesse laser applications for industry, and life and health science. The Picarro acquisition fits directly into our life and health science equipment strategy. It gives us the central colour (488 nm) that we need to serve the bioinstrumentation market in a big way. Now we can offer wavelengths from 375 nm up to 635 nm as solid-state diode products that emit either a single colour or a combination of colours.
In the life and health science area, developers typically need to channel various wavelengths of light into a sample tray or into material flowing through an instrument. Customers are not necessarily experts in photonics, but as part of our integrated solutions strategy we can sit down with them and design a subsystem that fits into their application.
What are some of the up-and-coming technologies?
There are several key areas that I think are worth noting. One is ultrafast lasers, both in terms of research use and for industrial applications. Ultrafast laser technology is used extensively in the biotech area to look at the molecular dynamics inside a cell. When you have an ultrafast laser you are able to "freeze-frame" the action.
We are also seeing increasing applications in the area of micromachining, and over time you will see ultrafast technology becoming more robust for the industrial market. Here, ultrafast lasers allow you to carve out elements below the surface of the material you are imaging. You can actually work within the material itself. For example, you are able to cut a via in a semiconductor material without drilling through the top. You can tune the wavelength and peak power to suit the resonance frequencies of the material.
Elsewhere, we have a keen interest in developing new technologies in the area of diode lasers. There are many direct diode applications, not just in life and health science, but also in graphics, printing, aerospace and defence. Paired-up with the light sources is the development of optics and filters to match those applications.
And looking further ahead, what do you see happening in the industry?
One trend in the industry that has become evident over the last couple of years is new architectures for lasers in the area of thin disc and fibre laser technology. This is something that is going to continue to evolve over the next 10 years and it is an important research and development area for us.
If you look at the mix of our products today, we don't make high-power CW lasers. Instead, we are primarily focused on the pulsed Q-switched or ultrafast side of things. We are not in the CO2, YAG or excimer field and so many of what I'll call brute force laser applications – cutting, welding and marking – are not areas that we serve effectively by choice.
In the long term, as new architectures develop and allow much higher powers to be addressed more efficiently, there is an opportunity for us to pursue those markets more aggressively.