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JPSA Laser snapped up by IPG Photonics

04 Sep 2012

Fiber laser company expands presence in fine-processing market with acquisition of the laser micromachining systems vendor.

IPG Photonics, the Massachusetts-based company that has pioneered the emergence of fiber lasers as industrial tools, is expanding its offering in the laser micromachining systems business with the acquisition of JPSA Laser.

The deal, for an undisclosed sum, sees privately held JPSA – short for “JP Sercel Associates”, reflecting the name of founder, CEO and CTO Jeff Sercel – become part of the growing IPG empire, where it will operate under the name “IPG Microsystems LLC”.

IPG says that JPSA should contribute around $4 million to its overall revenues for the remainder of this year, suggesting that the New Hampshire company has annual revenues in the region of $12 million. That sales level is dwarfed by IPG’s existing revenues, which should easily exceed $500 million this year, but in 2013 the additional business also should add to IPG’s overall profits.

The acquisition is not entirely unexpected, given that IPG is both highly profitable, and has been sitting on an even larger cash pile since its surprise follow-on offering of stock that raised $154 million earlier this year.

Shortly after that stock offering, IPG’s CEO Valentin Gapontsev and CFO Tim Mammen had told investors that the fine-processing segment was one area where the company was looking to add complementary expertise through an acquisition.

Wide range of systems
JPSA certainly offers that. Its range of systems is aimed at applications across semiconductor, solar cell, MEMS device and LED wafer dicing, as well as biomedicine and micromachining. At present, those systems are based on a broad range of laser types, including excimer and diode-pumped YAG sources.

The company also offers systems based picosecond-pulsed lasers that are suitable for fine processing of difficult materials such as glass and ceramics, which are seen as likely growth areas for laser materials processing.

Exactly how and when IPG replaces those lasers with its own fiber sources remains to be seen, though the company has been working to widen its product range with ultraviolet, green and short-pulsed offerings in recent months.

In a statement announcing the deal, Gapontsev said: “The combination of JPSA’s specialized laser systems, and the UV and short-pulse fiber lasers that IPG is developing now should allow us to deepen our penetration of the $800 million fine-processing market.”

That suggests some significant replacement of the existing sources, with Sercel’s comments in the same statement adding that there is strong demand for “better quality” short-wavelength and short pulse-width laser sources for JPSA’s systems. However, Sercel also confirmed that the new IPG division would continue to offer systems based on non-fiber sources:

“While we will continue to sell our UV and excimer laser systems, as well as systems which use DPSS lasers, we strongly believe there are significant growth opportunities using advanced fiber lasers to displace traditional laser sources,” he noted.

Sensible move
Mark Douglass, an investment analyst covering the industrial laser sector with Longbow Research, sees the move by IPG as a sensible one, even though JPSA is not currently profitable and the expansion at the systems level may put IPG into greater competition with some of its own customers.

"It certainly could create more tension," Douglass told optics.org. "But the OEM market's so fragmented at low powers I'm not sure how the OEMs can collectively fight back and respond to the encroachment."

The analyst believes that IPG may have some other deals up its sleeve, given the scale of the March public offering, and that the company may end up making some investments in UV and ultrafast technologies if internal developments do not progress as quickly as is hoped.

In the short term, Douglass thinks that most of the sources used in JPSA's systems will remain the same, as IPG does not yet offer the broad range of products needed for the microelectronics sector. "[IPG] thinks its latest green lasers have sufficient energy to address certain applications, but knows that it comes up short in UV and ultrafast," he said.

Among JPSA's more recent product introductions is the IX-6100-MD system, designed for scribing and dicing the metal layers increasingly used to help thermal control in high-brightness LEDs.

The company sells similar tools that are used in the so-called "laser lift-off" production step, where the active layers of an LED device are separated from the substrate material on which they were originally grown - meaning that the chips can emit light more effectively.

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