Manufacturing Awards 2011: Innovation — Technology: Raydiance taking precision fast-pulse laser to new frontiers
By Loralee Stevens, Special to the Business Journal
PETALUMA — Raydiance was named winner in the Innovation–Technology category for its unique, multi-application product and for the wide and rapid dissemination of its technology.
Raydiance was founded to bring next-generation laser technology out of the lab and into the commercial marketplace.
Its software-driven, ultra-fast laser pulse technology can precisely ablate just about any material without generating heat, giving it applications in human cell targeting and removal as well as a broad spectrum of very high-precision manufacturing and industrial uses.
Led by former America Online CEO Barry Schuler, the Petaluma company has customers in major research labs across the country and recently partnered with major German laser manufacturer Rofin to give it an international footprint.
According to a company spokesman, Raydiance now counts seven of the top medical device manufacturing companies among its customers.
Mr. Schuler has likened the growth of high-speed laser technology — known as femtosecond laser — to computers, once room-sized and the exclusive domain of highly trained individuals.
“Femtosecond has been considered an R&D toy for geeks … not powerful enough for serious applications … only suitable for a small research niche and not the commercial market,” he told attendees at a recent laser photonics conference in Munich.
Mr. Schuler and Raydiance CEO Dick Pierce believe femtosecond laser, while not likely to be deployed alongside personal computers in countless households, does belong in many more settings than specialized research laboratories.
The Raydiance Smart Light is rugged enough for factory floor operations, yet precise enough to cut delicate medical stents. The size of a microwave oven, it sits easily on desks and countertops.
A major component is the brainy computer controlled operating system, which allows lay people, not just highly trained technicians, to run it.
“Software is the key,” Schuler said. “You cannot have a reliable robust femtosecond laser that isn’t being controlled by a software loop.”
Although the company seeks wide deployment of the Smart Light and Rofin’s Raydiance-powered lasers, it has focused as well on research labs. Raydiance placed its earliest iterations in universities and research institutions, both to gather feedback and to give scientists an opportunity to develop applications.
Micro medical devices, thin film processing and precious metal assaying and defense are only a few of the uses under development now as a result that that placement. The U.S. Navy was an early customer and investor during the first stages of development at the University of Florida.
Raydiance moved to California in 2004 and by now investors have put about $50 million into the company. From a team of less than 10 researchers Petaluma-headquartered Raydiance has grown its workforce to 50 engineers, technicians, assembly workers and administrative staff. About 25 new hires are planned for the coming year.
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