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IPG set to ramp laser diode production again

11 Mar 2014

Fiber laser company orders another high-volume epitaxial growth system from Veeco Instruments.

IPG Photonics is set to further expand its internal production of pump diodes for fiber laser systems with the purchase of a new high-volume molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) system from key supplier Veeco Instruments.

MBE kit is used to grow the critical light-emitting compound semiconductor layers within laser diode chips, and IPG is installing another of Veeco’s “GEN2000” cluster systems, which are capable of growing laser structures on top of several semiconductor wafers simultaneously to maximize throughput.

It supports simultaneous production on seven six-inch gallium arsenide (GaAs) wafers, or three eight-inch wafers, whereas the previous “GEN200” design could only a handle a single large wafer at a time.

The GEN2000 is more commonly used in the production of radio-frequency GaAs components such as amplifiers and switches found in smart phone handsets and tablets.

Alex Ovtchinnikov, senior VP of components at IPG Photonics, said: “Having the ability to transfer production methods from our other Veeco MBE systems means we can ramp laser diode production quickly and reliably to meet increasing demand for our fiber lasers.”

20MW laser production in 2013
In a recent filing with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), IPG said that it already had four multi-wafer growth reactors installed at its diode fabrication facility in Oxford, Massachusetts.

And during the company’s latest financial results call, CEO and founder Valentin Gapontsev reported that IPG's laser diode production during 2013 amounted to a combined output of 20 MW, a figure that he said has been growing at an annual rate of 50 per cent. The new MBE kit should enable IPG to raise that total by a further 5 MW at least.

The epitaxial growth of laser diode structures is a complex process, and perfecting recipes and reactor conditions is critical to ensure high yields and reliable laser operation over long periods.

Keeping the production in-house, an approach that underpins the vertically integrated IPG’s strategic thinking, is not without its risks, but having that control is regarded as one of the key reasons why IPG has been able to dominate the fiber laser market thus far.

IPG’s industrial laser rival Rofin-Sinar is currently in the process of adopting the same strategy. According to recent industry reports, Rofin is making progress with refining its MBE reactor production, and said to be on track to use its internally produced diodes in 270 W pumps for volume use in mid-2014.

Rofin is aiming to start producing 2 kilowatt pump modules as it ramps the internal diode fabrication, something that ought to enable it to produce high-power fiber lasers for industrial applications at a more competitive cost.

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