JK Lasers joins SPI to enhance TRUMPF’s business in fibre laser technology

An interview with Steve Norman
(Director, SPI Lasers) and Mark Greenwood
(CTO, SPI Lasers)

What does the acquisition of JK Lasers by SPI Lasers mean for the Rugby site?

Steve: The intention has always been to keep the Rugby site as a base for both manufacturing and R&D of fibre lasers. Although some rationalisation of the products is inevitable, the two companies fit together surprisingly well, and the fibre laser business is predicted to grow significantly. With roughly 100 employees in Rugby, this takes the total headcount for SPI Lasers to around 350 and over 90% of these are based in the UK.

Mark: We are very positive about the acquisition of JK Lasers, and having an owner that is committed to longterm investment in laser technology and manufacturing capability is a huge benefit. We are adopting some of the lean manufacturing techniques used in Southampton and we have no intention to reduce staff numbers – in fact we are recruiting and have open vacancies for the Rugby team.

 

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Mark Greenwood (left) and Steve Norman at SPI Lasers, Rugby

How does it feel to part of the TRUMPF family?

Steve: I have been part of the TRUMPF family since 2008 when TRUMPF bought SPI Lasers. For me it has been very welcome to have long term investors with a clear strategy in the laser industry and TRUMPF has been very supportive towards us. You might recall that the global credit crunch occurred around the same time as we were acquired by TRUMPF, and they managed that environment very well. It is very good to have owners with a willingness to invest and follow a long-term strategy.

Mark: For me, I am new to TRUMPF since the acquisition in April this year, but I like the fact that the company is owned and run by people with experience, knowledge and interest in laser technology.

Will the legacy products from Rugby still be supported?

Mark: More than 20% of the JK Lasers (as was) business comes from spares, service and repairs of existing and legacy product lines so we have no plans to stop supporting them. Ultimately, we see fibre lasers replacing pulsed YAG, so the number of niches where we can sell the lamp pumped technology is reducing.

We still support the Spectron and JK product lines though, in terms of keeping lasers running for our customers and hopefully converting more of them to new fibre laser technology with the efficiency and cost advantages it offers.

What potential is there for improved competitiveness by combining the technology of the two companies?

Steve: When the team from SPI Lasers first visited JK Lasers site in November 2014, we expected to see a very similar capability to our own. However, we were struck by the opportunities for mutual benefit. For example SPI Lasers were drawing our own fibres but sending them out to be assembled into complete fibre cables – at JK Lasers they were buying in fibres and assembling them. Another example was where SPI Lasers were buying beam pump combiners to enable higher output powers, but JK had this technology in house. So we saw that straightaway there was an opportunity for beneficial vertical integration.

Mark: We also found that although JK Lasers was active in some markets which overlapped, like Additive Manufacturing for example, we were selling to different markets and customers very often. JK was focused on the higher average power solutions which added to the top end of what SPI Lasers could produce. Some changes we have made already include the adoption of several lean manufacturing techniques already used in Southampton. They are structured well for high volume and can turn out a completed laser every 11 minutes when running at full capacity – which is an impressive result of their process optimisation and flow-line
strategy.

You showed a 4kW laser at Laser World of Photonics in Munich this summer; do you anticipate increasing the output power further?

Mark: We see the technology as very scalable and the current platform should allow us to reach 6kW using the same modules as we have in our 3kW product.

This will allow us to address more of the market for multi-kW CW lasers for cutting and welding, which is an area in which we would like to increase our market share.

How do you see the market for fibre lasers developing for SPI Lasers in the future?

Steve: We have consolidated our position as the second largest global supplier of fibre lasers for material processing. We are already producing over 5,000 sources per year in Southampton, and our capacity is higher than this when the demand requires. By adding higher power units from Rugby and combining our technology we can grow the revenue significantly and be more competitive.

The integration of the two teams has moved very quickly in the first three months since the acquisition, we are already combining modules from Rugby and Southampton in products shipping to customers. Future products will be able to maximise the benefits of benchmarking the best technology from each stable to produce a winning result.

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