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Photonics Systems, a German pulsed-laser equipment manufacturer known for micro-material processing, looks to expand its capabilities to the PCB industry. Barry Matties sat down with Antonio ‘Toni’ Schmidt and Kurt Weber to talk about the company’s transition and the challenges they’ve faced thus far as they continue to build and extend their brand into a new market segment.
Barry Matties: Toni, can you start by telling us a little bit about your company?
Toni Schmidt: Innolas Solutions has been in the marketplace for approximately 25 years. We were acquired last year by a Swiss investment company called CSG. The key reason they invested in us was that there is very good growth potential in laser applications. As devices and holes become smaller, cuts have to be performed with greater accuracy and breaking strength has to be better. Thus, there are a lot of new requirements heading our way, especially in the PCB industry.
CGS’s approach is to buy and build industrial leaders. And having said that, we have another company in our booth here called LS Laser Systems, which was also purchased in the latter part of 2018 and added to the Photonics group. Our goal is to add at least two or three additional companies from the U.S. or Asia. The ultimate goal is to form a group with around 300 employees doing a revenue of 60–80 million euros in the beginning.
I have two positions. In one position, I’m chief sales officer (CSO) of the Photonics Systems, which is a new group of companies building laser systems for micro-material processing. This group was founded last year in May and is the anchor investor in this group is known as InnoLas Solutions. InnoLas Solutions was split off from Innolas Systems, which was sold to Corning glass. InnoLas Solutions is a very well-known company in micro-material processing with lasers based out of Munich, Germany. Our operations goal is to establish and build Photonics systems subsidiaries in North America, South America, Asia, and the rest of the world, starting with the North American market with the formation of Photonics Systems USA Inc.
Matties: And you said that you currently have two positions?
Schmidt: Yes, within InnoLas Solutions, I’m responsible for sales. Since we are still a relatively small company right now, my other role is that I’m the responsible salesperson inside InnoLas Solutions.
Matties: When a company comes in like this and starts merging a lot of organizations, a cultural shift can happen.
Schmidt: Thankfully, both companies are from Munich, so the cultural differences were very small (laughs).
Matties: And you’re talking about a global footprint.
Matties: How are you managing sales globally?
Schmidt: InnoLas has approximately 100 people. Traditionally, if you are a smaller company, you work with agents. And in those agencies, there are trained sales and service people who will do the first-level support. Then, whenever it gets to a deal, things get complicated, or they need additional service, we do the second-level support in sales and service.
Matties: Kurt, you are in the U.S. What’s your role?
Kurt Weber: My role is as director of sales for North America. I’m responsible for putting together the representation organizations within the United States, Canada, and Mexico, continuing the process of current sales activity. Additionally, I have been tasked with making sure that we have sufficient resources in our North American service and applications group to support all activities moving forward. I’m currently wearing several different hats and working with all of my counterparts from around the world.
Matties: From a market position point of view, how well-known is this company in the U.S. market?
Weber: InnoLas is more well-known in other industries, but because we have also worked in the electronics industry in a few market segments, the two industries do dovetail into each other. InnoLas manufactures systems for many industries, including solar cells and medical as well.
Matties: Coming into this industry, what challenges do you see?
Weber: I wouldn’t call it a challenge necessarily. I would rather see it as we have new equipment with new technology that’s now being presented, and because it is new equipment, we have to establish brand recognition in the North American arena. There are other companies that have been in production with their current systems for substantial amounts of time that have started and set a pace, but we come from a slightly different approach. We’re a laser manufacturer as well as a machine manufacturer. And since we come from this type of an environment, we have an advantage because we understand lasers. Meanwhile, a lot of other companies are machine manufacturers or might have been drill or routing manufacturers for an industry and added lasers onto their systems.
By tapping on our current technological know-how from other areas, we have cross-pollination going on within our equipment ranks. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that people within the PCB industry have commented, “Oh, InnoLas? We know them. They make good lasers.” That has been the type of response we have been receiving from people across North America.
Matties: It’s still a tough challenge, even if they know a name, when you’re competing against brands that have been servicing in the industry for 30 years or longer. But we see that the need for lasers is growing, as we talked about earlier. What’s going to separate it from what they already know? Because it’s easy to go with what you know, what’s proven, and what works.
Weber: As a laser manufacturer, I believe some of the end result will be that we’ll see some costs being taken out of the electronics manufacturing process—a simplification of the current work processes. Our technology, and the fact that we are a laser manufacturer, will work to our advantage, allowing us to succeed moving forward in this market segment with an improved ROI.
Schmidt: We are in different markets. One market is the solar market where we do equipment for crystalline solar cells and big thin-film solar modules; we are well-established there worldwide. Another industry we’ve been in for almost 20 years is the DCP market. We are drilling and cutting aluminum nitride and oxide. This was a very good market for us last year, which will continue due to the PV, wind, and electric car industries in the future.
Another big market is the sensor market. In sensors you cut, drill, and trim material. That’s a good combination with our partner LS Lasers. Now, we are also entering into the semiconductor industry because we are a laser process company, so we are coming from the laser application side.
Matties: It doesn’t care what it cuts.
Schmidt: Yes. Sometimes you have challenges, of course, but we are working with the latest and greatest laser technologies, especially short-pulsed lasers. In our systems, we have platforms that are extremely precise (±5 microns). And with this nascent technology and strong application know-how and equipment platform, we are ready for future applications.
Matties: You talked about lowering cost and increasing efficiency, which are very important to the end users. What advice would you give to somebody that’s considering a laser system today?
Schmidt: What we see in electronics is that people are using the equipment for a really long time compared to other industries, and it should be future-proven. Don’t go for old technology; go for new technology, which you can also use in the future.
Matties: Good. I appreciate you talking with me today.
Schmidt: Thank you.