16 Oct 2012
“Great expectations” of international partnership based on brittle glass cutting technique.
Jeffrey Albelo, CEO & Chairman, FiLaser.
Optics.org: Give a brief history of the company
FiLaser was founded by our CTO, then CEO, Dr. Abbas Hosseini in 2009. He first observed some rather unusual phenomena associated with long structures created in transparent media. Further investigation led him to believe there was something special occurring. In order to protect, commercialize and understand the phenomenon, he formed FiLaser.
What is your role?
I was invited to assist with commercialization and further development of the technology in winter 2010 as FiLaser’s CEO. Our Chief Marketing Officer, Jung Un Na, was involved from the beginning, providing financial support in the early days of the company. We are currently small but growing.
Today’s company has applications development and R&D labs located in Portland Oregon and Toronto Canada, respectively. Class 100 clean room laser stalls are located in Portland. We have a number of new technologies under development in addition to our singularly unique approach to brittle materials processing.
Are you entering this marketplace with a “unique” offering or is it a very competitive field?
An important distinction from all other techniques presently on the market is the lack of a focally convergent beam within the target material, a key component of the Hamamatsu approach. This enables us to produce world-class results with a differentiated approach. The field has many competitors, but our results are physically, chemically and electronically unique.
What is your business development plan?
Our business plan consists of licensing and cooperative development with partner companies. I am trying to avoid capitally intensive manufacturing arrangements, which is typically difficult for startup. Our partners were selected very carefully based on their capabilities, business approach and flexibility.
How will the three-company partnership function?
InnoLas Systems, Krailling, near Munich Germany, is licensing the process technology developed by FiLaser, which is based on ultra-short pulse lasers produced exclusively for the job by Lumera Laser, of Kaiserslautern, also in Germany.
Time to market is critical when brining new ideas into technical applications. Innolas has extensive systems integration experience with a solid opto-mechanical approach. Lumera brings a one-of-a-kind solution in their laser, which is a significant enabler in our technology.
I have a long commercial history with Lumera and know they are capable of delivering. Both companies have large install bases and I have chosen them after considering many other choices, both in Asia and North America. Glass, Sapphire and brittle materials of both dielectric and semiconducting varieties are on our roadmap as target applications.
Conventional laser cutting is based on rapid heating leading to vaporization and material removal. This process is not only slow, but can lead to unwanted micro-cracks and a rough surface finish.
Material cut with conventional laser processes often requires post-processing in order to remove the unwanted damage. These subsequent grinding and polishing steps are costly and time consuming. Filament cutting employs ultra-short laser pulses in the picosecond range that cut brittle materials via plasma dissociation.
Now we have the capability to produce a 3 µm diameter hole that is 6 mm deep in a variety of brittle materials, with virtually zero taper, as the entry and exit hole are very nearly the same diameter. This can be accomplished at nearly 1000 vias/second. It would be impossible to achieve a result like this with any other approach.
We can dice silicon and gallium arsenide (GaAs), for example, with faster feed speed, smaller kerf width, and higher die break strength than any other approach presently on the market. We expect robust growth of sales in all of these segments. We are particularly interested in complex spline surface cutting with curved and chamfered edges as this is presently impossible to do with light.
What are your special capabilities with "Gorilla" glass and for mobile device manufacture?
Chemically strengthened glass is a big attraction for the market and for us as we can successfully cut CS glass with DOL (depth of layer meaning thickness of layer) of up to 100 µm.
Gorilla glass Gen One, has a DOL around 20 µm or less, as it becomes too difficult to process if it get much deeper. Gen Two is around 35 µm – and is already in products on shelves. It becomes more difficult to use conventional cutting techniques with larger DOL numbers, as the tension–compression in the glass grows and its tolerance for perturbation decreases.
Our technique has demonstrated perfect yield at DOL of 90 µm. We can cut features, holes, chamfers, and more, all on CS glass, which requires only a light touch-up afterward to regain its strength. A much higher yield process that is presently available. Basically, cover glass yields are not much better than 50%. This represents a bit of a scaling problem. One of several reasons Apple returned to a metal – glass construction.
What is your longer term plan and possible exit strategy?
With our current alliances [in Germany], international operations are not a problem as we travel and teleconference as needed to coordinate our efforts. The plan is to have an Innolas applications lab in the USA, most likely located in Portland.
Our exit strategy is not to get bought per se, but to continue to develop technologies and to transfer them to other manufacturers. We have another five or so patents in the pipeline that will enable us to go public with more disruptive technologies that will change the way certain items are manufactured and enable fabrication and design of new devices not yet seen before. We expect to become a laser process development and technology deployment partner for new and established players in this space.
Presently, we are planning no additional locations, but will expand the facilities at the extant sites. Other areas of exploration are, “under wraps” for now, until the relevant IP get into the pipeline.
Ultimately what is the market potential of filament laser cutting?
We have created a novel laser process technology that is at the interface of physics and materials science. It is purely disruptive and we believe it will provide our customers with a compelling motivation to acquire this capability. We believe that this combination of these partner companies will produce world-class results and will aid in putting this capability into the hands of our customers with speed and total reliability. We have great expectations as the application potential spans far beyond glass, sapphire, and wafer singulation.
About the Author
Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org