Raydiance improves ultrafast subscriber program

PETALUMA, CA--The applications and attributes of Raydiance’s ultrafast lasers have been detailed in a number of news stories in Laser Focus World (see “Raydiance achieves record pulse energy for femtosecond fiber laser&drquo; at www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/327312 and “Ultrafast laser used to detect counterfeiting of precious gemstones&drquo; at www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/320113).

PETALUMA, CA--The applications and attributes of Raydiance’s ultrafast lasers have been detailed in a number of news stories in Laser Focus World (see “Raydiance achieves record pulse energy for femtosecond fiber laser&drquo; at www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/327312 and “Ultrafast laser used to detect counterfeiting of precious gemstones&drquo; at www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/320113). And Raydiance just closed a $20 million funding round in the latter part of 2008 (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/346018), a testament to its pursuit of a “Moore’s Law-like path to develop and bring to market ultrafast lasers that are cheaper, smaller and more powerful with each generation,&drquo; in the words of its co-founder and president Scott Davison.

But Raydiance attributes much of its success to its TechStream “subscribers versus buyers&drquo; model that was detailed back in late 2007 in “Raydiance takes a new approach to ultrafast lasers&drquo; (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/308751). Even back then, Raydiance supported a sales model based around a low-cost subscription system, in which customers paid a fixed fee (just a fraction of the full cost) to use a complete ultrafast laser system as they focused on application development. Two years later, Raydiance hopes to gain even more customer traction with its new “Discovery Platform&drquo;--a second-generation laser system with twice the power at half the cost, coupled with the same subscriber model as before, but at an even-more-attractive price point.

“The TechStream subscription program is an innovative pricing model to address the needs of some of our customers who might be working out their integration and power needs, or might want to have access to a constantly improving technology platform without a capital outlay every year or two,&drquo; says Davison. “For other customers, a capital model works better and we continue to offer both plans to address the varying needs of our customers.&drquo;

Reducing subscription costs

Raydiance’s second-generation Discovery Platform can be subscribed to at a price of just $10,000 a month; roughly half of the $20,000 subscription price for its first-generation systems that debuted approximately 18 months ago. Considering that its femtosecond 1550 nm, 10 µJ and 50 µJ laser systems have single-unit prices of $200,000 and $275,000, respectively, the subscription model is a welcome option for many customers. “Our subscription model provides an ultrafast laser ‘service’, not just a product,&drquo; says Davison. “Unlike leasing an instrument, a subscriber receives ultrafast laser technology and sustained, regular hardware and software upgrades that are invaluable during a company’s design phase.&drquo;

Davison says the subscriber model works well for a company in the R&D prototyping stage, when an instrument is needed to lay the groundwork for developing a new ultrafast materials-processing or other application. At the end of that phase, a customer can move to a purchase if they’d like, and eventually, to a volume-purchasing arrangement as their application is implemented. Raydiance is betting on high volume to move $200,000 system pricing to < $80,000 in volume, with the real prize being a $30,000 system in the milliJoule power range.

So just how did Raydiance manage to double its laser power while simultaneously halving its price? Davison says there were two main reasons: an all-fiber architecture, and an investment in volume manufacturing. “We could have chosen a hybrid path to get higher power, but fiber offers lower component costs and ultra-high reliability. In addition to our architecture, we invested in a 17,000 square ft. manufacturing facility to leverage volume manufacturing,&drquo; Davison adds.

Reliability is critical

“Despite all the talk about higher power and lower cost, customers developing new ultrafast applications are ultimately concerned about reliability,&drquo; says Davison. “Raydiance now has enough life-cycle testing under our belt that we are able to specify 24/7 reliability beyond 25,000 hours for our systems--true commercial-grade femtosecond ultrafast.&drquo;

Davison says that ultrafast is enabling new applications not possible with higher-throughput (and higher heat-affected zone) nanosecond and picosecond laser systems. “Femtosecond athermal ablation is critical for emerging applications like bio-absorbable stents, made from unique and often chemically doped polymers that melt easily, and are hard to machine or etch.&drquo; Davison also touts the success of Raydiance’s lasers in silicon patterning and thin-film scribing and processing of solar cells. “Customers have tried mechanical, then chemical means to process some of these newer materials, but they are finally realizing that ultrafast lasers are the next big thing.&drquo;

Raydiance hasn’t seen much of a pull back in sales from its customer base, despite the gloomy economic scenario. Overall, Davison is instead seeing a ‘sea change’ in the marketplace: “Non-thermal ablation is a game-changing tool, and Raydiance is fortunate to have arrived at a time when the market is just starting to innovate.&drquo;

--Gail Overton

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