IPG Photonics founder Valentin Gapontsev passes

Nov. 1, 2021
The passing of Dr. Valentin Gapontsev on October 22, 2021 leaves the world of fiber lasers and laser material processing with a void impossible to fill.

The passing of Dr. Valentin Gapontsev on October 22, 2021 leaves the world of fiber lasers and laser material processing with a void impossible to fill.

I’m not sure about the actual date, but it was in late 1996 or early 1997 when I was invited by an acquaintancea just-hired sales/marketing personto visit the temporary offices of just-founded IPG Photonics in Sturbridge, MA. Not as Editor in Chief of Industrial Laser Review (the predecessor to Industrial Laser Solutions), but as an industrial laser market analyst and consultant. It was there I was introduced to the imminent laser scientist, Dr. Valentin Gapontsev, among other incipient IPG management.

Before I was asked, and had the opportunity to define the global industrial laser market, Dr. Gapontsev chided me for not reporting sales figures for fiber lasers. Since we did not report specifically on this new-to-market laser product, lumping it in the ‘other’ category, I was subjected to a diatribe on being slow to respect a laser that was planned, by him, to challenge and dominate the global market then held by CO2 lasers. I’ll never forget the growth curve showing CO2 and fiber laser sales that he drew on a chalk board to back his claim. Several years later at IPG’s headquarters in Oxford, MAprior to the company going publiche drew another whiteboard curve, this time showing when IPG revenues would surpass the amount of company startup funding, a goal he apparently set himself.

This was my introduction to a man with a driven passion, Valentin Gapontsev, who took almost as an intentional insult any snub of the fiber laser. At a major early 2000 international conference in Munich, Germany, he stunned me and the audience with his vocal challenge to a speaker representing the industrial laser-leading supplier of high-power CO2 lasers. This precipitated a ‘first-of-a-kind’ verbal debate that became quite vitriolic—a personality quirk only modified when IPG Photonics went public in 2012.

From those early days, Valentin (use of his first name was a sign you were acceptable) and I had an ‘off and on again’ relationship, determined by my editorial support of fiber laser processing. When approaching him at conferences and trade shows, I relied on a friendly IPG marketing person for a measure of Valentin’s mood that day.

Most every year, I was invited to a personal interview with Valentin, at which time he typically challenged my market numbers. However, as I had traveled several times to Russia, he was interested in my views of his homeland. This led to a more cordial atmosphere. So, over time we reached a point where we shared non-technical experiences and opinions. He would allow a discussion on current market situations, but rarely on family matters.

As the years progressed, and fiber lasers sales soared, my admiration grew for what he, and IPG, accomplished with fiber laser technology and how he grew IPG to a dominant market position. At our last meeting before the pandemic, Valentin, having stepped aside as CEO of IPG, seemed more subdued in his remarks. I read this as a measure of him basking in the adulations of his successes. I recalled the lecture in which the famous Gapontsev fiber laser market curve appeared and thought, congratulations, Valentin, on IPG’s high-power fiber laser market leadershipyou did it.

The fiber laser market lost two giants this year: Valentin Gapontsev and my old friend Bill Shiner, who together with Valentin took IPG fiber lasers to the forefront. Things will not be the same without them.

About the Author

David Belforte | Contributing Editor

David Belforte (1932-2023) was an internationally recognized authority on industrial laser materials processing and had been actively involved in this technology for more than 50 years. His consulting business, Belforte Associates, served clients interested in advanced manufacturing applications. David held degrees in Chemistry and Production Technology from Northeastern University (Boston, MA). As a researcher, he conducted basic studies in material synthesis for high-temperature applications and held increasingly important positions with companies involved with high-technology materials processing. He co-founded a company that introduced several firsts in advanced welding technology and equipment. David's career in lasers started with the commercialization of the first industrial solid-state laser and a compact CO2 laser for sheet-metal cutting. For several years, he led the development of very high power CO2 lasers for welding and surface treating applications. In addition to consulting, David was the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Industrial Laser Solutions magazine (1986-2022) and contributed to other laser publications, including Laser Focus World. He retired from Laser Focus World in late June 2022.

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