A few years ago, the Innovation Authority decided to give the Israeli laser industry a significant boost. This decision lead to the establishment of the ALTIA Consortium (Advanced Laser Technologies for Industrial Applications) in 2016. Dr. Kobi Lasri, General Manager of V-Gen, was appointed as the consortium's chairman. V-Gen, founded in 1998 and today a part of the MKS Instruments Inc. corporation, develops and manufactures fiber lasers for industrial and defense applications.
Dr. Lasri tells of the consortium's establishment: "Lasers are considered a vital component in a variety of advanced industries that have become an integral part of our daily lives: computers, smartphones, smart electric vehicles, micro-electronics, medical devices and more. In a world in which these dynamic industries display profound technological improvements each year, the demands placed on laser systems are also rising incessantly. Laser systems manufacturers are faced with increasing challenges with regard to demand for precision, resolution, reliability, throughput, and cost structure.
"Israeli industry is one of the world's leaders in many fields with pioneering technologies in cyber, biotechnology, micro-electronics sectors and others", Dr. Lasri describes, "more-over, there are world-leading Israeli research groups in the field of electro-optics. The Innovation Authority also identified the potential to turn the laser industry into a leader of the future generation. This support of infrastructures and technological innovation establishes a competitive edge for Israeli industry."
Thus, the ALTIA Consortium was born as an R&D initiative for the next generation of advanced laser technologies. Six commercial companies joined together with leading research groups in the fields of laser physics and photonics components from the following research institutions: the Technion, Weizmann Institute, the Hebrew University, Bar Ilan University, Ben Gurion University, and Tel Aviv University. Other partners in the consortium include the Lev Academic Center and the Israel Center for Advanced Photonics at Soreq.
The industrial partners in this consortium are three leading laser companies – V-Gen, Civan, and Elop – and three companies from the field of components – Raicol, that manufactures optical crystals, Holo-Or, that manufactures advanced Diffractive Optical Elements (DOEs), and Orbotech, that manufactures systems and solutions for manufacture processes in the electronics industry and is the end user of the lasers developed by the consortium. Activity in the consortium is based on the fact that each participant contributes his share of expertise and experience – all working together in full cooperation. The consortium meets on a quarterly basis and each research group conducts independent meetings as needed.
Dr. Lasri: "The cooperation between the companies and research groups in the ALTIA consortium is extremely successful. The extensive knowledge accumulated while developing laser technologies contributes to enhanced competitiveness of the laser and components companies. Although the different companies are all operating in the same field, we don't compete with each other, rather fully cooperate thus serving all of our combined needs."
Work as a Calling
Dr. Lasri details the ALTIA Consortium's activity on a professional level: "The consortium was formed with the goal of developing generic technology for manufacturing advanced industrial lasers possessing high power, short wavelength and short pulse capabilities. All the while, streamlining and lowering costs of manufacturing processes, improving reliability for 24/7 applications and positioning the Israeli laser industry as a world leader that will continue to grow and develop.
"These capabilities will enable lasers to meet the increasingly growing demands for advanced material processing tools. It is all part of a process that will facilitate technological innovation in the ability to process advanced materials such as polymers, silicon and organic compounds that will be required for the next generation of the automotive, smartphone, renewable energy industries and others.
"In accordance with this vision, we defined objectives for the consortium such as developing advanced technologies for short-pulse, short wavelength, and high-power lasers. The consortium also places an emphasis on specially designated electro-optic components that enable the development of the advanced lasers and the establishment of a laser processing systemic infrastructure for demonstrating the different applications."
Dr. Eyal Shekel, CEO of Civan Advanced Technologies, a high-tech company that specializes in developing and manufacturing high-power lasers, is also taking part in the consortium. Dr. Shekel: "We had three tracks at ALTIA: lasers specific for industry, the components' technology necessary for all lasers, and applications – designed to verify that the lasers we built met the demands of the end user."
Dr. Shekel describes the Innovation Authority's involvement in the work of the consortium: "From my personal experience, the Innovation Authority achieves wonders. When looking at the big picture their Return On Investment is remarkable. When they assist a company such as ours, we can consequently employ 130 additional employees, create products and generate income – this is invaluable.
"The Innovation Authority technology experts who work with us are people who are familiar with the industry and the interaction with them contributes to us all. Sometimes they introduce us to fields, clients and entities that we were unaware of and these collaborations are extremely helpful. These are people who don't serve in a government paid job because of the salary but rather out as a calling and a sincere desire to contribute – this comes through in their daily work.
Synergy at a Personal and Professional Level
"We are in the third and final year of the consortium", says Dr. Shekel. "In my opinion, it has been a great success and there are two main reasons for this. The first is that we achieved the goals we set for ourselves: we have developed both lasers and technologies that we planned to develop. Civan, for example, contributed two things to the consortium: we developed an innovative green laser and we prepared a list of the technologies required for the lasers of each consortium participant. On both counts, we achieved all our goals. We already have customers for the green laser that we developed at the consortium – an outstanding achievement.
"The green laser we've developed is not the first in the world but there is a tremendous difference in its capabilities compared to the others. Our laser is capable of providing radiation at a 530-nanometer wavelength, and unlike all the other lasers, it is continuous and not pulsed. It has an extremely high output power and very rapid switching capability – it can be turned on and off 50 million times a second and this is unique. If you want to adapt materials, to weld, cut or print in 3D, this wavelength is much better than the lasers that exist today.
"The second reason for our success is the cooperation between all the companies who partnered in the consortium: As part of the consortium, working liaisons have been established that will continue to collaborate even after the consortium and in other frameworks. Civan, for example, will certainly continue working together and collaborating with all those we have cooperated with in the consortium, including the research groups. Already now, we are working together outside the consortium."
"The leadership and conduct within the consortium are excellent", explains Dr. Shekel. "Among others, this is because there is great friendship between all the participants which contributes greatly to the work and synergy between the companies. Dr. Lasri, who led the consortium, did a fantastic job."
Dr. Lasri himself also expresses satisfaction at the consortium's results. "We achieved a world breakthrough in the field of short wavelength pulse fiber lasers while preserving flexibility, efficiency, and reliability and while lowering the costs of the manufacturing processes suitable for the next generation 24/7 industrial applications. One example of this productive cooperation is the integration of innovative technology for efficient adiabatic frequency conversion developed in the group led by Prof. Adi Arie from Tel Aviv University, crystals of Raicol, and components developed by different groups in the consortium. The technology is still at the development stage but has huge commercial potential for industrial applications such as micro-processing solar cells, printed circuits, flexible displays and others.
"Another example of collaboration leading to impressive achievements is the development of reliable and efficient technologies for creating short pulses in the group was led by Prof. Gadi Eisenstein from the Technion and Prof. Avi Pe'er from Bar-Ilan University together with V-gen and Civan. The cooperation between Elop, Civan and the Center for Advanced Photonics to develop unique components that will provide companies the capability to independently manufacture all laser components. It is important to mention that according to the Consortiums Law, the knowledge accumulated within the consortium belongs to all the participants and everyone benefits from it."
Technology Precedes the Applications
"The consortium has also enabled the companies to establish important international collaborations", says Dr. Lasri. "In addition to Orbotech developing applications in the micro-electronics field, we searched for additional large companies outside of Israel to test different applications of the lasers developed in the consortium in various advanced industries. For example, we have created a collaboration with Bosch GmbH Corporation from Germany to check the technology's application for the automotive industry. We have also contacted a leading international manufacturer of smartphones that is currently testing one of the lasers developed by the consortium for applications that will be integrated into the next generation of modern phones.
"The international connections we have created are leading us to the next generation of industrial applications and opening up possibilities for new applications. At the consortium, we took fields in which Israel was not a world leader and are propelling them forward with technologies that are paving the way to the applications of the future.
"This is an extremely important success for the consortium and at the same time, for the companies themselves. Both V-Gen and Civan for example, have succeeded in developing the first lasers based on the consortium's unique technologies and are already close to begin marketing of the first models that are in advanced stages of testing by potential customers.
"The process was swift due to the synergy between the consortium's technologies and the vision and roadmap of the companies. We have fantastic collaborations with the field's leading human capital that provides us with the added technological value, which allows us to better contend with the existing market competition.
"The work will not end when the consortium closes. The consortium has served as a trigger for developing different technologies, but three years are not a long time. Each company is taking the things they already identify as having tremendous potential and continuing the process together with academia beyond the final development stage. That is the true fulfillment of the consortium's vision.
Academia looks to the Future
Dr. Shekel tells of the not necessarily obvious cooperation between industry and academia: "The collaboration between industry and academia is very challenging. The challenge begins with the very different manner in which academia views work plans, schedules and adherence to goals compared with that of the business world.
"In academia, there are many challenges that arise out of cooperation with industry. The establishment of a team to cooperate with industry is complex because of the time involved to recruit students to the team and the turnover of students involved that requires time to train the new recruits. The academia's ability to commence a program prior to receiving all the relevant authorizations makes them operate over a longer schedules than that of a business entity.
"On the other hand, collaboration with academia is highly important for a number of reasons: the first is exposure to professors, their research groups and their activities, as well as to their knowledge and their thinking. The second reason is that it is an excellent way to work on subjects that will become technology in another 3-5 years. In our company we are currently working on fields that are relevant for today – but it is important for us to maintain a competitive advantage. We can work with academia on future subjects. A third reason is the opportunity to get to know outstanding students who we can subsequently recruit to work in our company.
"I think that the solution to improving collaboration between academia and industry is first of all to increase funding to academia. If each group is only given a sum that barely suffices for a student's costs, it is difficult to make progress. There should be less research groups, but more funds allocated to each one. On the other hand, it is important for academia to be willing to work at the pace acceptable by the industry.
"On a broader level, I would also introduce awareness into both universities and commercialization companies that it's good to collaborate with the industry. In other words, university departments often impose a lot of pressure on professors to publish studies and they don’t receive credit for their work with the industry. If they were acknowledged for doing something beneficial for the industry just as they do for every academic study they publish, it would serve as great motivation.
"We work with research groups from European universities where everything works completely differently. In other words, there is a very practical orientation. In Germany, for example, academia aspires to collaborate with the industry. They operate with a budget of millions of Euros a year and everything they do is aimed at assisting the industry. I would be happy to see more of this approach take root in Israel."
Ami Appelbaum, Chairman of the Board, Israel Innovation Authority & Chief Scientist, Ministry of Economy and Industry, mentions that photonics is one of the Israeli high-tech industry's most advanced growth technologies. The Innovation Authority is currently partnering the establishment of the Soreq Photonic Center that will serve as a R&D knowledge center and will provide services to the industry such as sub-mounts for laser diodes, independent manufacture of optic fibers, from the raw materials stage up to the completed fiber roll.