20 Years of SPI Lasers
This year marks, not only 60 years since Theodore H. Maiman built the first ever laser…but also the 20th anniversary of SPI Lasers. Starting off as a ‘spin-out’ from the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre, the company has grown into one of the global market leaders in Pulsed and CW Fiber Lasers. We manufacture and sell thousands of lasers every year across the world, involved in countless applications from Additive Manufacturing to thick metal cutting…
…but it wasn’t always like that.
As a company we’re very proud of our history, from our humble beginnings…to where we are now. So to celebrate our 20 years, we thought we’d put together a look back through the SPI timeline!
2000: The Spin Out
On 11th February 2000, Southampton Photonics Incorporated was founded.
In May of that year £55million was raised to fund SPI Lasers, this was a record investment for a start up company!
We started out manufacturing in-fiber optical components and subsystems for telecommunications. Our in-fiber technology enabled optical networks to transport more bits, over more channels, with greater accuracy, at a lower cost.
The company’s products were split across three product lines; BragNet, GainNet and HydraNet.
BragNet (pictured below) was a high performance optical filter and interleaver, allowing systems to utilise more densely packed channels while maximising per-channel bandwidth.
2001 saw the dreaded telecoms crash, causing the whole sector to plunge into difficulty. To survive, we needed to refocus our business.
An opportunity came around for a business project looking to develop a single polarisation, single frequency, single mode 1kW laser, capable of being combined to form a single mode beam with 100kW of power!
SPI bid for, and won the contract!
So we set to work first developing the technology and were actually the first company to demonstrate 1kW of output power from a single mode optical fiber.
This was a huge turning point in the companies history. As due to SPI’s performance under this contract, other businesses and investors started taking an interest in SPI, not as a telecoms company…but as a supplier of high power fiber lasers!
2004: Launch of CW
2004 saw the launch of SPI’s first industrial fiber lasers. The rack-mounted 20W 1µm CW lasers were the first industrial offerings using SPI’s Yb GTWave technology. Also offered at a 50W power level, these lasers had high modulation frequencies, fundamental mode beam quality and closed-loop power control and were ideally suited to printing and micro applications.
Today’s SPI CW fiber laser engines are 100x more powerful – an achievement made possible by laser diode pumps with 30x higher power, as well as several hundred years of engineering effort in finessing our core fiber technology and components.
2006: Launch of G2 (Pulsed Fiber Laser)
In 2006 SPI launched its first ns pulsed marking laser. Also leveraging GTWave fiber with a low photodarkening active core, the 12W G2 laser was the beginning of the product family that introduced SPI’s innovative PulseTune technology.
Allowing user control of pulse widths from 10ns to 200ns as well as pulse rates up to 250kHz, opened up improved processing capabilities at a time when the world was still not fully familiar with the potential of fiber lasers.
2008: Acquired by TRUMPF / Launch of G3
The 2008 G3 laser series was an evolution of the G2 laser that incorporated an advanced PulseTune controller within the laser chassis and provided an interface designed for compatibility with scanner controllers. It also improved the format of the isolating beam delivery optic and made a number of ‘under the hood’ technical improvements to make a stronger industrial offering.
The G3 laser found wide-spread use in marking applications, with significant deployments in consumer electronics marking and solar cell processing. In addition to operational improvements, the power range was extended to 40W.
On October 7th it was announced that SPI Lasers would become part of the TRUMPF Group, a German machine tool and laser manufacturing giant who are among the leading global manufacturing brands and the technological world market leader in industrial lasers.
The market for Fiber Lasers was still growing and TRUMPF were looking to expand their product range even further, with SPI focusing more on lower power Fiber Lasers this complimented TRUMPF’s own product offering. With this move TRUMPF didn’t just gain more products but also a worldwide distribution network, numerous patents and market leading expertise in the design and manufacture of Fiber Lasers.
Having that ability to exchange knowledge and experience between two global leaders in their own markets has been invaluable for both TRUMPF and SPI.
2011: Launch of G4 (Pulsed Fiber Laser)
Encompassing feedback from our partners on the successful G3.1 laser as well as our vision for the future, the G4 was SPI’s first laser platform designed from the ground up to support lean manufacturing principles and DfX.
This ongoing philosophy, now incorporated in SPI’s other product lines, allows SPI to offer lasers with high reliability and repeatability over large install bases, as well as the manufacturing flexibility to respond to surges in demand and changing application needs.
With output powers from 20W to in excess of 200W, pulse lengths from 3ns to 2us, pulse rates up to 4MHz and a range of beam quality options, the G4 laser platform continues to define the benchmark for flexibility and performance in marking, e-mobility, solar processing and micro applications.
2015: JK Lasers acquisition
In April of 2015, we completed the acquisition of JK Lasers, based in Rugby (UK), the reason behind this acquisition was to enhance our high power Fiber Laser portfolio.
With acquiring the JK Lasers site, we gained a wealth of knowledge and experience, especially in the higher power Fiber Laser market. As well as the extra 42,000 sq ft of floor space meaning we could increase our production outputs to meet demands.
SPI Lasers CEO (2015) Dr Christian Schmitz stated: “We are very excited about the prospects ahead as we blend the considerable talents and technology of SPI Lasers and JK Lasers. Our focus of course remains on putting our customers at the heart of everything we do, producing high quality, reliable and flexible Lasers designed to suit their needs.”
2016: Launch of PRISM & QUBE
In August of 2016, we announced to launch of a new generation of industrial high power CW fiber lasers for our redPOWER product line…PRISM & QUBE. Initial products ranged in power level from 500W to 6kW. These products replaced our long running redPOWER R4 products.
Dr. Thomas Fehn (CEO of SPI Lasers from 2015 – 2018) said: “As ever we remain committed to offering our customers the very best quality products, backed by market leading levels of service and support; as such I am thrilled to confirm the launch of our expanded CW redPOWER product range.”
2018: New Offices
In June of 2018, we opened a new service centre in in Wauconda, Illinois (USA), serving customers in North and South America. The centre provides a central location for service and support of our products, and being located close to Chicago airport enables efficient transport for all customers in the Americas. The service centre includes a splicing capability to enable replacement of laser modules & beam delivery cables. The facility also offers a full electronic test diagnostic and recalibration capability as well as local spares holding. Matt Shakespeare, Head of Service noted “Our new facility in the Americas is part of our strategy to work increasingly closely with our customers and follows on from the new Service Centre we opened in Seoul last year. We look forward to making further announcements of additional service facilities later this year.”
In November, we further increased our footprint in China by opening a new facility in Shenzhen. The facility acts as a sales and service centre for China as well as being fully equipped with an applications laboratory.
The applications facility came fully equipped with both a 2kW single mode and a 6kW CW Multi Mode laser source as well as a full suite of pulsed lasers. Allowing our fiber laser experts to fully support our Chinese customers with their application needs, fitting into our developing growth strategy of putting the customer at the heart of what we do.
Soon after in July at our Southampton HQ we expanded our manufacturing capacity by taking over ‘Unit 4’ at the Wellington Park site. This increased manufacturing space by approximately 40,000 sq ft (3,716m²).
The opening ceremony was performed by Dr. Christian Schmitz (CEO of Laser Technology at TRUMPF) and attended by SPI Lasers staff from across the UK, TRUMPF representatives and Southampton ORC members.
2019: Where are we now?
In 2000, after failed planning permission prevented a move to Chilworth Science Park we eventually settled at Wellington Park, Hedge End. We started out with units 3, 5 and 6. Until the telecom crash in 2002, where we sublet out unit 6.
After the crash had recovered, we stopped the sublet on unit 6 and a few years later purchased unit 2 and in 2018 bought unit 4.
So now, we span across 5 of the 6 units on the Wellington Park site, with two manufacturing lines, a fiber tower, applications labs, R&D labs, offices and a new canteen.
Since the early days SPI has found trade shows a great way of interacting with customers, and to show the market what we have to offer. And while this attitude hasn’t changed in 20 years…it is safe to say we have come a long way in how we portray the message…
One of our biggest shows of the year is always Laser World of Photonics Shanghai, a fantastic event which brings together the market leaders from all across the world of photonics. We have been exhibiting at the show for 10 years now and our presence at the show has grown dramatically as you can see…
Visit our Events page to see all our exhibitions for the year.
Below is an insight into some of our advertisements from the archives. These artworks were designed for our redPOWER CW Fiber Lasers.
The messaging in these pieces was designed to focus on the ‘power and control’ aspects of our fiber lasers, which allows the user the ability to perform high powered applications (such as thick metal cutting), with ease through our simple to use GUI and software.
Today the message also introduces the almost unlimited possibilities fiber lasers are capable of in terms of the applications they can create.
2020: What's Next?
While its good to look back, it is arguably more important to be looking forward. At SPI, we are very excited for the future in photonics with constant innovation in technology, expanding product ranges and new applications being discovered every year!
With the rise of E-Mobility and a greater need for battery processing in the automotive and other sectors, this provides many opportunities for fiber lasers. Check out our webinar on e-mobility applications here!
“It’s taken dedication and commitment to become a leader in the design and manufacture of some of the worlds finest fiber lasers, none of which would have been possible without being able to bring together some of the most creative and brightest minds in the business. Our ethos of encouraging sharing and learning has resulted in some fantastic developments and a lot of fun along the way.
I for one am looking forward to what developments the next twenty years will bring!”
– Mark Greenwood CEO for SPI Lasers
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We hope you enjoyed this brief look back into our history as we look forward to beginning a new decade of innovation!
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