"There is increasing demand for qualified consulting"
Dr. Katrin Kobe took over as CEO of LASER 2000 at the start of the year. The physicist can look back on 25 years of management experience in mechanical engineering, automotive, sensor systems, medical engineering, and communication technology. She replaces Armin Luft, who developed LASER 2000 from a start-up to a successful global medium-sized company over three decades. In an interview, Katrin Kobe describes her plans for the company, the role of technically qualified solution providers in photonics, and her appraisal of the future developments in the growth markets of imaging and sensor systems.
Dr. Kobe, you replaced Armin Luft as the driving force behind LASER 2000 GmbH. Could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Gladly. I was born in Wasserburg am Inn, studied physics in Munich and specialized from an early stage in laser technology, optics, and quantum mechanics. After completing my degree dissertation at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, I went to the Technical University of Berlin, where I studied for my doctor’s degree in the field of femtosecond spectroscopy with the new titanium-sapphire femtosecond lasers. Following this, I was with McKinsey for five years, where I got to know various technology companies and worked in different specialist areas: sales, development, product management, and strategy development. Since then, I have been able to use this consulting expertise in managerial positions at medium-sized technology companies, for which I developed strategies for the future and or which I realigned.
Which of your skills will you especially need for LASER 2000?
The focus will be on sales and strategy. Due to the rate of innovation in the photonics industry, our market is continuously growing. The current situation is comparable with that of the electronics industry 50 years ago: from special solution to standard technology. There is a world of difference between the importance of photonics at the time I was studying and now. Back then, only specially trained personnel were allowed to operate lasers. These days, lasers are well established as standard technology in many industries, the life sciences, communication, and many everyday devices. For us at LASER 2000, this very positive development raises strategic issues: Which markets should we focus on? How will our consolidation inclinations develop? How can we participate in the industry’s growth? In my opinion, the main challenge is to place the right products in the markets with the greatest potential.
What are your plans for and with LASER 2000?
LASER 2000 has positioned itself successfully as a value added reseller. I plan to continue along this path with our highly qualified team. We want to continue growing. To do this, we will expand our expertise and use it more in consulting in order to give our customers the best possible support to develop ideal solutions for their applications. There is increasing demand for qualified consulting. As the application spectrum for photonics becomes more broad-based, more people with no photonics background will work in this field. We help those people choose the best products and train them on how to use them. This is our core area of expertise. At the same time, we have to lead the way from a technological aspect and continuously expand our portfolio with the most innovative products on the market for our customers. I see our task as a sales company to act as a broker between scientifically-based manufacturers and industrial users. Often, we know the markets and the requirements of the users better than the manufacturers of lasers, cameras, or sensors do. One successful example of our strategy is the blue NUBURU high performance laser, which has many advantages compared to lasers with infrared wavelengths with regard to processing very reflective metals. We were involved in selling these lasers from an early stage and have established them successfully in many different user markets. By the way, we will be presenting the first NUBURU lasers with 500 watts output power at LASER World of PHOTONICS in June.
Imaging and sensors are regarded as the key technologies for Industry 4.0. The market is growing but it is very segmented. Do you expect to see more market consolidation?
In view of the number of small providers in the market, many of whom have very similar products, consolidation is likely – and also sensible. Industry 4.0 will pose some major challenges. Larger companies can supply industry with the necessary imaging solutions more reliably. For example, the automotive industry places demands on its suppliers that small companies could not fulfill. Also, in the course of consolidation, larger providers become established that have a different type of market power vis-à-vis their customers. In addition, to implement Industry 4.0, development platforms are currently forming on which large IT companies are actively involved. You need to have a certain size to work within these structures. It is also important that not too many different standards evolve. Consolidation would also be welcome in this respect.
You worked in the automotive, mechanical engineering, medical engineering, and communication technology industries. How do you see the prospects for the future of photonics in these industries?
Photons are the fastest particles that we currently can use to transfer data, to generate measurement information, or to perform touchless processing of many different materials. Optical sensors are a mainstay of Industry 4.0. First, they have to measure. Only then can artificial intelligence draw conclusions from the processes – and exert influence. No matter whether in Industry 4.0, medicine, mobility, research, or communication: these days, photonics is the key driver of progress.
Final question: What will be the focuses of LASER 2000 at LASER World of PHOTONICS 2019 from June 24 to 27?
Apart from the NUBURU high performance laser with 500 watts, we will also be showing a new ultrashort pulse laser from our partner SPARK LASERS, which was one of the three finalists for the 2019 Prism Award in the “Scientific Lasers” category. This ultrafast laser with a wavelength of 920 nm has an average power of up to 2 watts with ultrashort femtosecond pulses (<140 fs) and a repetition rate of 80 MHz. A third focus will be VCSELs for time-of-flight measurements in autonomous vehicles. Visitors to our booth will also be able to obtain information about innovative SWIR cameras with outstanding full-HD resolution. It will be worth visiting.