Lambda Physik sees growth in Japan and Asia

Since Lambda Physik established a Japanese presence in 1991, its dual approach to the market there has earned it a majority market share for its excimer lasers. The company pursues the scientific and industrial markets in Japan with separate approaches; while Marubun Corp. (Tokyo) markets excimer and dye lasers to the scientific community, Lambda Physik, Japan (LPJ, Yokohama) serves the industrial community with excimer lasers.

Lambda Physik sees growth in Japan and Asia

Paul Mortensen, Contributing Editor, Japan

Since Lambda Physik established a Japanese presence in 1991, its dual approach to the market there has earned it a majority market share for its excimer lasers. The company pursues the scientific and industrial markets in Japan with separate approaches; while Marubun Corp. (Tokyo) markets excimer and dye lasers to the scientific community, Lambda Physik, Japan (LPJ, Yokohama) serves the industrial community with excimer lasers.

The comany?s local competitors include Mitsubishi Electric, Hamamatsu Photonics, and Komatsu. For Lambda Physik laser products, Japan?s market is 60% larger than the total of sales in Asia-Pacific countries. Nevertheless, growth in the Asia-Pacific markets is strong.

Currently, the Japanese scientific market is healthy. The government there has supported researchers during the prolonged economic recession, with additional funding provided during 1993 and 1995. Two laser-related technologies specifically benefiting from these funds are combustion studies and research into high-temperature superconductivity thin films. Such research at Japanese universities is more strongly biased toward applied research than fundamental research?unlike in the USA?so both of these technologies are also being researched within company development laboratories.

Hence, notes Burkhand Fechner, LPJ Far East sales manager, Japanese automobile manufacturers are working on double-pulse experiments using two excimer lasers coupled into a dye laser to help address the challenge of improving internal-combustion-engine design and reducing atmospheric emissions of NO, NOX, and CO2. Increasing the compression ratio of an internal-combustion engine will reduce such emissions, and, by studying hot spots in the end gas of knocking combustion, the engine?s design can be appropriately modified. The double-pulse laser system is used to visualize the temporal development of hot spots.

In the industrial market, laser-related research areas include semiconductors, micromachining, marking, laser chemical-vapor deposition, and annealing. One promising market is microlithography, for which Lambda Physik has been working on a new class of excimer lasers. Because current i-line steppers could be replaced by excimer-laser steppers for production of 256K memory chips, the company is developing a narrow-bandwidth KrF excimer laser.

Another promising field is thin-film transistors (TFTs) used in active-matrix liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). In Japan and Korea, the trend is to manufacture LCDs at lower cost and with larger screens. Such manufacturing will need high-mobility polysilicon TFTs to form the drive circuits on the matrix board of the display. For that, short-wavelength lasers such as excimer lasers are ideal. To date, more than a dozen excimer-laser-based annealing systems have been installed for flat-panel-display development in Japan, with the market promising further expansion to the production systems.

Meanwhile, current best sellers for the company in Japan include the Compex150?an amplifier/excimer-laser system designed for many kinds of weak-signal sensing applications such as lidar and combustion analysis and the LPX-200i?a medium-power excimer laser for scientific and productive industrial applications.

Taiwan is funding a significant amount of fundamental research. Many researchers are returning from the USA, tempted by the Taiwanese government?s offer of professorships and advanced equipment (such as lasers) for research. Popular topics include combustion research for the optimization of engine design, fundamental molecular research, and areas that, in many cases, are triggered by what researchers investigated previously in the USA or elsewhere.

In China, universities are not only researching and developing products?nonlinear crystals, for example?but manufacturing them as well. In 1995, China started its eighth five-year plan, which will provide a good window for laser sales. And, despite its small size, Hong Kong is also developing into a dynamic laser market where, like Taiwan, the government is looking for scientific talent, but this time from China.

To keep up with the changing needs of its customers, LPJ?s parent company in Germany pursues an aggressive research program, plowing about 16% of its sales back into research. At present, the company is working on a lithography laser, tunable optical parametric oscillators, and excimer lasers that provide ease of maintenance, ease of use, and low operating costs. A sealed-off excimer-laser tube that can run to the end of the laser lifetime with one initial gas fill is a major research goal.

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