27 Jun 2007
UK fiber-laser specialist SPI Lasers has won a $2.8 million order to ship its lasers to a medical equipment integrator for aesthetics applications.
Medical applications, such as cosmetic enhancement and correction represent a new but fast-growing segment of SPI's business. And it's not just in the aesthetics sector that fiber lasers could make a big impact. Tami Freeman talks to David Parker, CEO of SPI Lasers, to find out more.
TF: What attributes make fiber lasers particularly suitable for medical applications?
DP: Traditional lasers come with a high degree of associated maintenance. With a fiber laser, on the other hand, all of the optics are fully integrated. Once the laser has been sealed, no user intervention is required. Fiber lasers are also many times smaller than their traditional cousins, which makes them ideal for integrating into small desktop clinical equipment.
How are fiber lasers used within medical aesthetics?
The lasers supplied for this latest contract will be integrated into cosmetic facial-regeneration systems. Essentially, the laser is used to drill small holes into the layers just below the surface of the skin. The light penetrates to exactly the right depth and as it heals, the tissue tightens and removes any wrinkles.
For this customer – a large Asian integrator of laser-based medical equipment – we've produced a laser that runs at 1500 nm. This is the ideal wavelength for this type of process, given the penetration depths required and the tissue structure that you're trying to affect. The laser requires a peak power of between 10 and 20 W to perform this process, but the output is pulsed to give a lower average power.
Why is SPI targeting medical aesthetics?
There's a lot of work going on using lasers in the area of medical aesthetics – we see this as a growing sector for our customers and consequently for us. It's not just removing wrinkles; this type of laser can also be used for blemish removal, port-wine-stain treatment and so on. We've been working in this area for the last two years and already have a number of customers.
Are there other medical applications for SPI's fiber lasers?
Another attribute of the fiber laser is that it has an extremely small, extremely intense optical output. As a result, it does a beautiful job of cutting fine features into various types of metal. So we've had a lot of trading in the medical device community. One area that we're heavily engaged with is the production of components such as stents using our high-power redPOWER lasers.
Some of the materials used to make stents nowadays are hard to cut – and very hard to cut with the required quality. You need a really smooth edge and obviously no burring at all. The fiber laser, and particularly the SPI fiber laser, has a lot of traction in that industry because it does those very difficult cuts extremely well.
At the other end of the scale, we've had people using our 1 µm fiber laser at a very low power for cell trapping. That's not been a particularly big market, but we have sold some lasers to various universities.
How important is the medical sector to SPI?
Medical is certainly becoming a very material part of our business and it's one of our strongest growing sectors. In terms of applications where the light comes into direct contact with the patient, our lasers have only been used in medical aesthetics so far. But SPI is currently looking at several other areas where the fiber laser can make a contribution, such as treatment and diagnostics applications.