Founded in 1997, Laserline has enabled diode laser technology to achieve a breakthrough in the industry. Within 20 years, a two-man-operation became a market-leading company with more than 270 employees and representatives throughout the world. We are looking back but also somewhat ahead.
Anniversaries are a double-edged sword. The media loves them, as they always need a topic. Jubilarians and contemporary witnesses love them as well, because they guarantee attention. The public sometimes loses orientation when it is about anniversaries. Sometimes people think less is more.
When a company that has established a whole technology on its own turns 20 years old, it is at least worth a mention. Because when Laserline was founded in 1997, high power diode lasers were nowhere to be seen. On the one hand, diode lasers were used in stage technology and in CD drives. On the other hand, industrial applications seemed utopian at the time. However, Laserline founders, Dr. Christoph Ullmann and Volker Krause, had taken exactly this into mind: they wanted to build a diode laser for industrial material processing that could replace the lamp-pumped solid-state laser. The reactions of the sector were predictable; Ullmann and Krause were more or less greeted with weary smiles. Almost nobody believed they could pull it off, particularly as the semi-conductor diode was said to be a weak device that did not seem suitable for high power applications because of its sensitivity to heat.
After 20 years and the invention of an innovative diode cooling technology, no one is laughing anymore. Laserline has since been able to replace the lamp-pumped solid-state lasers 1:1, while industrial material processing has seen further development on a broad level. The very compact Laserline diode lasers have set technological benchmarks and have overtaken the competing laser types in different areas. However, it took ten years of hard work before the company was able to durably establish itself in the market. In 2007, the completion of framework contracts with Audi sent a clear signal that a final breakthrough was achieved. Certainly, noteworthy projects could then be realized much earlier, e.g. the construction of the world’s first, and today still in operation, diode laser plant with 100 separately controlled laser systems in 1999. The laser powers and power efficiencies that were offered at the time were able to be increased many times. In the prototype construction, Laserline today has reached an output power of 60 kW, while the efficiency rate has crossed the 50-percent mark. These are achievements that the founders probably did not dare dream about in 1997.
Joining and cladding applications have turned out to be the domain of Laserline’s diode lasers: welding, brazing, cladding – and certainly additive manufacturing and layer-by-layer design of workpieces as well, in which diode lasers are set to enjoy a great future. Applications where diode lasers are used as heat source are not less important: hardening, softening or drying. The laser systems could also succeed in metal cutting.
Started as a two-man operation, Laserline today counts more than 270 employees and is represented on all continents with branches and sales partners abroad. A 15,000 m² huge company premise at its headquarters in Mülheim-Kärlich close to Koblenz provides enough space for development and production – and certainly for further growth. And it’s because Laserline, following the wish of its founders, shall do in the future what it has always done: grow quicker than the laser market and assert its internationally leading position in the field of diode laser technology. With regard to the technology, two particular goals are the focus: increase the efficiency rate towards 70 percent and the output power towards 100 kW with an unchanged compact design of the laser systems.
20 years seem long yet still seem to fly by fairly quickly. Laserline has used the time well and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. The recipe for success? ‘Persistence’, say Ullmann and Krause. Do not be irritated when the great breakthrough seems to remain in the pipeline for quite a while. And certainly, function as a team and try to get through the ups and downs together.
In this sense, we can’t wait for the next 20 years!