Making it in the USA

May 1, 2006
Livonia, MI-Luis Gabriel Diaz, born in Bogotá, Colombia, obtained a degree in Electromechanics (1987) and then studied for four years (1991-1995) at the Institute Fuer Hochleistungstrahl Technik in Vienna, Austria, where he built an experimental coaxial laser.

Livonia, MI-Luis Gabriel Diaz, born in Bogotá, Colombia, obtained a degree in Electromechanics (1987) and then studied for four years (1991-1995) at the Institute Fuer Hochleistungstrahl Technik in Vienna, Austria, where he built an experimental coaxial laser. This experience allowed him to specialize in laser design and construction.

Returning to Colombia in 1996, he had an idea to open a laser job shop, in a market where lasers for industrial applications were relatively unknown. He bought a used system powered by a Coherent M42 CO2 laser, which had problems working properly in Bogotá because this city is located 2700 meters above sea level. Also the motion system had a serious backlash problem and precision was an issue.

In 1997 he decided to build a new laser system to offer a 4 ft x 8 ft full sheet capability. With limited financial resources he built a new motion system, but it was financially impossible to buy a laser source, so he chose to install a plasma torch as a cutting system. Then in 1998 the company started cutting metal using plasma, an action that changed the market dynamics by offering a precision cutting service with versatility instead of the services normally offered; hand cutting or pantograph guide cutting.

But the market for this technology took time and money, and Luis, financially strapped, chose different options. Delegating the running of the Colombian company, in 1999 he went to the USA to work for Precitec Inc. and later for Fraunhofer USA.

Having an entrepreneurial mind he saw a potential opportunity to obtain a package of four fire-damaged laser machines that were scrap for everybody else. Marshaling his resources, and knowing lasers and motion systems, in 2002 he bought these units and refurbished them so they could work again. It took two years, but once they were ready he opened a job shop in Michigan (with two 5-axes and one flat bed cutter), in the densest laser market in the U.S.

At the same time he obtained a used 1.2kW CO2 laser and placed it on the motion system in Colombia. Two years later it was built into a 2kW laser cutting system. Now there are two laser systems in Bogotá working 15 hours a day.

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I met Luis 10 years ago in Buenos Aires where I was teaching a course on laser cutting and he was dreaming about building a laser business, but lacked the financial resources. I took an interest in this young entrepreneur with the big dreams and in a modest way encouraged him to persevere. Sometimes he had to make big decisions; pay the electrical bill or pay for the motor amplifiers. He got the amplifier but there was not electricity to test it until he got the money to pay for the electrical bill. Then he went to the U.S. to work for a salary and he obtained a second-hand 1.2kW CO2 laser. He went on a “vacation trip” to Colombia to install this laser and train people to use and maintain it.

In Michigan, his company Laser 3 LC (Livonia, MI; offers 3D laser services for the auto industry; cutting aluminum and other metals. He says Michigan’s industry isn’t quite ready to deal with Latin people working in laser technology, so it has been difficult to penetrate into this market. However the company is now developing a 5-axis controller to run a fourth machine, a 5-axis system. As Luis says, “In laser technology there is always something to do, some things to improve, there is no end.”

I consider this a great story of perseverance and fortitude. I am pleased to know Luis and proud that in a small way, perhaps only by offering encouragement over the past few years, I am part of a truly inspiring American success story. —DAB

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