Supplying robust and reliable ultrafast lasers to the global market
Location: Stockport, UK
Company website: http://www.laserquantum.com
Laser Quantum is dedicated to supplying robust and reliable lasers to OEM companies and research institutions around the world. It is a global leader in continuous wave and ultrafast lasers and complement all its ranges by offering supporting optics, instruments and accessories.
Formed in the 1990s by three PhD physicists from the University of Manchester, Laser Quantum has grown rapidly into a globally recognised company, renowned for their quality, reliability and the scientific advances it brings to the photonics market. The company was recognised as part of the Sunday Times SME Export Track 100 in 2016 and has won numerous awards for its technology and export growth, including a Queens Award.
Following the acquisition of two companies; Gigaoptics GmbH and Venteon Laser Technology GmbH, Laser Quantum has been able to unite the principles of robust design and cutting-edge technology, in the fields of continuous wave, GHz, few cycle pulses, THz spectroscopy and amplification.
The great variation and individuality in specification required by the research community and the repeatability and service required by the industrial customer could be a source of conflict for some companies; however, Laser Quantum has found that these two demands are the driving force behind the company: balancing innovation with the quality that industry requires.
CommonwealthFirst will support the company in its quest to win new business for its premium lasers in new markets such as India, Canada and South Africa.
Apply now to become an Export Champion.
What exactly are lasers and how are they developed?
To understand lasers it is important to start with the nature of light. The light from a lightbulb contains many different wavelengths (colours) all heading in different directions and with no link between one light wave and the next. A laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) uses one photon of light to create another identical photon, these two generate two more and so on. The light from a laser therefore has all the same wavelength, direction and is coherent (all the peaks and troughs of the wave are in time with each other). This brings a number of benefits to suit different applications. Firstly, its power intensity. For a standard light bulb to have the same intensity at a distance of 1 metre as a 1W laser, the bulb would have to have a rating of over 2million watts. Secondly, due to their single wavelength nature, laboratory tests that rely on measuring small changes in light can achieve far higher sensitivities than when using non-laser light sources.
Differing applications demand different characteristics from the laser beam, e.g. power or wavelength stability, coherence of the beam, raw available power or the actual wavelength of the beam etc. Each of these criteria are recognised for their importance and our research team is constantly working to develop and improve the criteria as required by our customers and monitored through our “Voice of the Customer” programme.
What is your best selling product?
The small but ultra-reliable gem laser. Based largely on its reliability, robustness and power, the gem serves a number of OEM customers who rely on it when installed in their instruments and shipped around the world. With an MTTF of over 400,000 hours, our customer (scientific and OEM) know that this laser will work even after the most stressful of treatments.
How did the idea for your company come about?
In the eighties and nineties, commercial lasers tended to be based on gaseous gain media such as a Helium:Neon mix, which were large, delicate and difficult to use. Our three founders were PhD researchers at Manchester University working on new solid state lasers that used crystals as the gain media rather than large vessels of gas. It was clear to them that the solid state laser would be more powerful, smaller and far more robust, which defined their target market at the time.
What difficulties have you encountered setting up your business?
In the early days, Laser Quantum faced many challenges. As a small company we faced the same as many start-ups, in getting the right funding, premises, balancing the requirements of selling, manufacturing, research and development, but additionally, as a high tech company, the raw materials were manufactured specifically to our designs, all of which were constantly changing with our product development initiatives. In the initial production phase our parts requirements was low, which meant high BOM costs and therefore increased end user costs. Finding the right partners willing to work with us, form a relationship for long term growth was key to making the company competitive in the market.
What are the biggest trade and export challenges you face?
The addressable market for our lasers is not extensive due to the specialist nature of their application. Finding the right partner in different target territories with the expertise, motivation and structure to support or sales and marketing and then visiting them to provide the training and customer visits they need is complex. Additionally, countries like India have a very complex bureaucracy and moving product across borders can be difficult.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow and develop your company?
A separate part of our market is servicing customers that use our laser as part of their own instrumentation. Laser Quantum has been very successful in working with small and start-up companies to develop laser capabilities that meet their specific requirements. We form teams dedicated to not only their current requirements, but their plans for the future generations of their products. More recently, this has developed into designing non-laser based systems to improve the capabilities and competitiveness of our partner, hence both increasing our joint revenues, and raising the barriers for competitor entry.
How did you hear about the CommonwealthFirst programme and what made you apply?
We were first approached by CommonwealthFirst after Laser Quantum were named in the Sunday Times Heathrow SME Export Track 100 list. The timing for us was ideal as we had just identified Canada as an under-represented territory and a team reorganisation had taken place. This moved Canada into the same “development” group as India and Australia. With the Brexit vote, the CommonwealthFirst is an ideal programme to help focus on future growth.
What are you hoping to get out of the CWF programme?
Laser Quantum initially focused sales and marketing efforts in territories and countries where we had existing contacts or were easy to reach e.g. The UK, Germany and the USA. With growth in revenue and headcount, other territories such as Japan and China were addressed pro-actively. This leaves large territories such as Canada, India and Australia that have been managed reactively. The CommonwealthFirst programme by definition is targeted at these territories and the knowledge sharing of other successful companies exporting to these territories should offer insights into the correct approach, business practices and procedures.
What is a typical working day for you?
As the Sales and Marketing manager for Laser Quantum Ltd, my days are separated into two halves. As a sales manager I am responsible for our distribution network in our key ROW territories, supporting, training, motivating and monitoring the activity of our partners, plus direct reactive responding to customers in non-key territories. This involves organising training courses, exhibition attendance, answering technical queries and responding to the in depth paperwork requirements of some tender submissions. The other half is working with the team of marketers to run campaigns based around specific technologies, working to monitor market and competitor trends and creating the advertising placements and artwork to raise the profile of Laser Quantum and its products.
Where would you like your business to be in 5 years time?
Our business has maintained a double digit growth rate for many years and the aim is to maintain and accelerate this pattern. We are targeting new sciences with advances in our own technology and internal programmes to attract more small and start-up companies. Although not all start-up companies become major partners, and their business starts low, a solid partnership at the beginning should lead to a number making the transition and becoming mutually dependent on each other. Where strategically matched, we are always looking for opportunities to develop our business through partnerships or acquisitions.
What advice would you give to anybody looking to set up an SME?
Each company start up needs a plan, with contingencies for different scenarios. Speaking as a marketer the plan should start with the customer. Anyone starting a company needs to know firstly that their product or service has a market that will both be interested in the benefits it brings and willing to pay the price that needs to be charged. Secondly, they need to have a route to communicate with those customers.
Is there anything exciting you would like to share?
Laser are simply a source of extraordinary light, our customers use them to enable their science. The gem laser for instance is key to the success of the world’s most successful DNA sequencing instruments, the taccor comb is being used to find exoplanets and identify extra-terrestrial life signs, the venteon OPCPA is creating the world’s shortest flashes of light that allow the imaging of electron motion. Our lasers are used to diagnose cancers in individual cells and provide treatment, research the next generation of quantum computers, quality control semi-conductor wafers, determine the thickness of sheet steel while still red hot, and many other applications in medicine, research and industry. It is the future advances in scientific knowledge and the resulting capabilities brought by lasers, that makes the photonics market so exciting and fast growing.