Coherent and Rofin – Leading and Innovating Together

Interview with Paul Sechrist, Executive Vice President, Coherent (Source: Coherent)

Paul Sechrist was appointed Coherent’s Executive Vice President, Worldwide Sales and Service in March 2011. He has over 28 years of experience with Coherent, including Senior Vice President and General Manager of Commercial Lasers and Components Business Group from October 2008 to March 2011, Vice President and General Manager of Specialty Laser Systems Business Group, Santa Clara from March 2008 to October 2008, and Vice President for Components from April 2005 to October 2008. Prior to this, he also held roles in Sales Management, Sales, Applications and Manufacturing. Mr. Sechrist received an AA degree from San Jose City College, with Physics studies at California State University, Hayward.

PhotonicsViews: Congratulations on 50 (plus 1) years Coherent! What has been the company’s recipe for success over these five decades?

Paul Sechrist: First of all thank you – we’re very excited about 51 years. We’re proud that most of the industry recognizes Coherent as a pioneer and leader in laser technology. And, in the beginning, much of our success was due to focusing on technology and having the “best” laser. By this, I mean the highest power or the shortest pulsewidth, or access to some wavelength region that no one else offered.

But I think what’s really kept us in the lead is that we’ve cultivated a culture of listening to the customer, and of identifying market and application trends. And through the hard work of some incredibly talented people, we have been able to translate that into products and solutions that our customers need. In the early days of photonics, it was more about the technology, and finding an application later. As photonic solutions – lasers – started to enable new applications and processes, we recognized that, while at the core we’re still a technology company, it’s the challenges we solve for our customers that mattered – whether that was resolving incredibly challenging understanding in chemistry, physics or life sciences, or how to produce something faster, with less waste and higher quality.

There are a couple of market factors that make this focus on solving problems for customers particularly important in terms of maintaining our leadership position and profitability. First, lasers are being used in an ever wider range of applications, and increasingly by companies that don’t have strong internal capabilities in photonics. The easier we can make it for customers to use lasers, the more likely they are to purchase from us. Sometimes, this might mean aiding with process development, or, it might translate into supplying a photonic subsystem that includes integrated beam delivery … We’re seeing this trend in everything from bioinstrumentation to materials processing; what customers increasingly want is to achieve is a particular result, for example welding two parts at a certain speed and to a specific level of cosmetic quality. And they look to Coherent to deliver a laser or photonic subsystem that achieves this result so that they can concentrate on their own core strengths.

The other reason that problem solving has become important to Coherent has to do with maintaining our competitive edge. Today, we’re increasingly facing the commoditization of some lasers due to the availability of lower cost products, particularly those produced in Asia. Coherent competes successfully in this environment by focusing more on delivering a high-value solution that minimizes total customer costs, when every element is considered, such as the customer’s development, time to market, maintenance, consumables, and so on. Accomplishing this starts by really understanding the customer’s priorities and the application. It requires a high quality product, often in the form of a more comprehensive solution, which is then backed by a worldwide service and support infrastructure. Again, the key is to broaden our business focus beyond just lasers and to really understand the bigger picture of our customers’ needs and the environment in which they operate.

PhV: Coherent serves a lot of different application areas with its lasers and laser systems. How have the different application areas developed in the last years?

PS: As you note, Coherent has developed into a very diverse photonics solutions company. We provide solutions in basic science, in everything from biological imaging to DNA sequencing. We service genomics, and to help people see better – Lasik – and look better – skin resurfacing and hair removal. We’re a leading supplier of photonic solutions to the textile industry, whether its cutting or marking of fabrics, or a host of other organic materials used in most modern products – from cardboard boxes to plastic bottles to jewelry. We’re involved extensively in the consumer electronics and microelectronics industry.

These have all developed differently, some based on breakthroughs in photonics technology that enabled growth or development: Reliable femtosecond lasers have clearly enabled advancements in biological imaging, which created greater capability / resolution and drove further development in photonics technology. Other applications developed out of the consumer’s compulsion over high quality products. Take the smartphone as an example – there are dozens of laser-based applications, from cutting to welding to marking, that enable the consumer to do amazing things with a smartphone.

PhV: Is there any application that came around rather surprisingly? Which are the most important ones for Coherent today and which one might it be ten years from now?

PS: There are lots of small interesting applications that might surprise you, for example, writing on eggs. But, if you think of needle movers – excimer laser annealing (ELA, eds.) stands out. This developed because consumers demanded higher resolution displays which drove manufactures to look for ways to improve on the LCD display. OLED displays now represent the highest level of resolution and clarity of any display.

The fabrication processes for these displays demanded levels of UV light only available in excimer lasers. They had been around for years, and played an important role in the photonics revolution, but volume production of displays? No one could imagine that ten years ago. But the opportunity looked compelling and enabling, so we worked with the leaders in the display industry. There were challenges with short gas lifetimes, tube replacement and beam shaping. But, we quickly advanced our excimer lasers in power, performance and reliability. Today, our excimer lasers are not only used in 24/7 operation with an extremely high level of reliability, we’re the only company that has been able to do this.

Looking to the future, from a standpoint of importance rather than simply sales volume, it’s hard to say what will emerge. Clearly, ELA will remain important, but we continue to see important applications in research. Also, materials processing is clearly key today and will be even more relevant tomorrow. Here, the need is to simply produce something faster, at a lower cost and higher quality than conventional non-laser technology can do. What used to be cut with a blade, which wore out, required post-processes and yielded a high level of scrap, is now being replaced with CO2, direct diode- and fiber lasers. We’re focused on how to provide the broadest portfolio of solutions here. This is by far the largest market for photonics solutions, and also one that has tremendous growth potential.

PhV: In 2016, Coherent acquired Rofin-Sinar. Is it correct to say that you treat this as a merger and not as a take-over?

PS: Absolutely! Both companies have a strong reputation in the industry, and both companies have done an excellent job at meeting the needs of the customers. We continue to be excited about the complementary products and solutions that Rofin-Sinar brought to the merger, and are even more excited about their people and capabilities. We spent a substantial amount of time prior to the acquisition planning how we would integrate the two companies – it was a collaborative process. Many acquisitions focus on the cultural challenges. And yes, this is important. But Coherent was blessed with a significant worldwide presence, and substantial footprint in Germany, in particular – where most of Rofin-Sinars employees are. We’d already seen that our two cultures were not that different.

This allowed us to focus on ensuring that we took care of the customer. In my position at Coherent, I saw this impact immediately. I’m extremely proud of how the teams across all functions worked together and excited about how the customers have welcomed this.

PhV: Rofin-Sinar and Coherent are both long-standing successful corporations with a complementary product portfolio. What was the main driver to undertake the acquisition at that specific point of time? Do you already see benefits from this move?

PS: Coherent has had a leading position in three of our core four markets. Scientific, OEM and instrumentation – think of this as bio-instrumentation and medical predominately –, and microelectronics – think of this as semiconductor and consumer electronics. We’ve also had a strong position in material processing, leading in the high-precision, low-power space. Rofin-Sinar’s focus was predominately in material processing, but more on the industrial, high-power area.

The acquisition positioned us in a strategically core market with a strong growth vector. We can now offer the industry’s broadest portfolio of solutions, not just in sources, but in components and tools. Together we expanded our portfolio of compelling photonics products, allowing us to better serve the needs of our customers. We took two leading worldwide service and support organization and made one stronger team with a focus on solving customer’s challenges. And back on your earlier question about consolidation and our focus on the customer – these groups were the first to integrate.

At the product level, this has already led to some specific advances that illustrate my point. For example, Rofin did not possess wafer-processing capabilities, and was previously sourcing the pump-diode laser chips for their fiber lasers outside the company. Coherent has extensive capabilities in diode laser epitaxy, so with the merger, our fiber laser production is now more vertically integrated.

As another example, Rofin has strong expertise in tools, and Coherent brought the best ultra-short pulse (USP, eds.) industrial lasers on the market to the merger. These lasers have already been integrated with Rofin’s existing systems to produce the CombiLine Rapid NX, a turnkey solution for permanent marking of stainless steel products that offers superior performance and greater ease of use compared to anything previously available. Similarly, pairing these USP lasers with Rofin’s SmartCleave technology delivers systems for thin-glass cutting, for display applications, for example, that are unmatched by anything else.

Coherent has always had the belief that, in order to support customers’ needs and grow the market, we should be able to offer a portfolio of solutions so that we can always deliver the optimum one, not just the ones limited to the technology someone happens to have. The Rofin merger expands our ability to deliver on this promise to the market, and always find the best solution for our customers’ problems.

PhV: Thank you very much for this interview!

The interview was conducted via e-mail ahead of the personal meeting of Paul Sechrist and the PhotonicsViews staff, Editor-in-Chief Oliver Dreissigacker and Contributing Editor Anna-Lena Gutberlet, at the Laser World of Photonics exhibition in Munich, Germany.

Further reading: The Largest Commercial Laser Company in the World, photonicsviews.com, 15th November 2016 • O. Dreissigacker & C. Teutsch: Rofin-Sinar: Ready for the 5th Decade – Interview with with Günther Braun and Thomas Merk, previous and new CEO, Laser Tech. J. 12 (4), p. 20 (September 2015)

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