“Photonics is a game changer”

Dr. Peter Leibinger is Vice Chairman of the Managing Board of TRUMPF GmbH + Co. KG. From July he will be in charge of the company’s strategic development. In this interview, he talks about the opportunities and challenges for young technologies such as additive manufacturing and EUV lithography, the role of photonics in Industry 4.0, and the principal topics that TRUMPF will be presenting at the LASER World of PHOTONICS from June 26 to 29, 2017.

Dr. Leibinger, you will soon be taking on a new area of responsibility in TRUMPF’s management. What exactly will be your task?

Dr. Peter Leibinger: We are expanding our Group management. Two long-standing executives, Heinz-Jürgen Prokop and Christian Schmitz, will assume operational responsibility for the Machine Tools and Laser Technology/Electronics divisions. Mathias Kammüller and I are relinquishing operational responsibility, in order to devote more time to taking care of future strategic areas. As Chief Digital Officer my brother-in-law will be promoting digital transformation, and I will be concentrating on new business fields such as additive manufacturing and EUV lithography. In addition, I will be assuming cross-sectional responsibility for Sales and will continue to look after Research and Development.

What potential do you see in additive manufacturing? Can 3D printing endanger established laser processing methods?

Leibinger: I see additive manufacturing rather as an important extension to our arsenal. It has so much potential that it can become a new, independent business area for TRUMPF. As yet it is difficult to make out any clear contours or an actual size for the potential market among all the nebulous hype. I don’t see 3D printing as competing with other laser processes, but as it gains in maturity and productivity it could begin to compete with a number of conventional industrial processes. Where it is possible to integrate optimized design functions into components, reduce assembly costs or implement weight savings, additive processes are already worthwhile today. The current learning curve and increased productivity from this still young technology indicate that in future these methods will outgrow small series applications. This applies not only to well-respected powder-coating processes but also to the already highly productive laser application welding.

EUV (extreme UV) is considered a key technology for upholding Moore’s law. What can Trumpf contribute to this?

Leibinger: We were approached 13 years ago as a manufacturer of CO2 lasers by the independent company Cymer, which has since been taken over by ASML. At that time there were very few laser sources for EUV research. Now we are working closely with ASML and Zeiss to rapidly bring EUV lithography up to industrial standard for future generations of processors. We no longer operate in this area as suppliers, instead we have significant developmental shares in this EUV source, where we now manufacture everything but the plasma chamber ourselves. We have founded our own company for this sector, which already has 350 employees and recently recorded over EUR 100 million in sales. With the series launch that all major chip manufacturers have announced for the leap to 7-nanometer technology, we expect to see significant growth in this extremely interesting new business area.

EUV development is lagging far behind the original plans of the semiconductor industry. Where do you see the sticking points?

Leibinger: Availability and productivity. It has taken a great deal of effort to reduce unscheduled downtime while increasing the service life of individual components. There were problems affecting the droplet generator, which injects 50,000 droplets of solder per second into the plasma chamber, and the service life of collector mirrors and a number of peripheral laser components. But such difficulties have been and are being systematically eliminated. We expect them to be resolved to the chip manufacturers’ satisfaction in time for the start of production. The second challenge is productivity. The magical quantity is 205W of EUV light output, which is sufficient to expose 125 wafers per hour. This critical threshold has now been reached, and we are working to increase the power still further. According to ASML, it is no longer a matter of whether EUV technology will come, but of how rapidly the changeover takes place. The top three chip makers have announced that they will be going into production. The speed at which the market develops now depends on how many chip layers they expose with EUV compared to how many with their previous process. The enormous pace of this innovation makes this area extremely interesting for Trumpf, both technologically and culturally.

What can and should be the role of photonics in Industry 4.0?

Leibinger: Photonics is a game changer and plays a core role in many different aspects of digitalization. Apart from data transport, visualization on displays and the whole field of sensor technology, it is the key to autonomous systems in industry and transport. Thanks to its precision, flexibility and digital controllability, laser technology also plays a vital role in production processes for Industry 4.0. At Trumpf we are thrilled that we are finally able to achieve what we have been striving for for so long: connecting our laser systems to the cloud. Here, Industry 4.0 acts as a catalytic converter that reduces and eliminates age-old resistance in our customers’ IT departments and elsewhere. Now it will become possible to precisely analyze plant data and generate added value for our customers. This might involve benchmark comparisons with other users, the discovery of systematic errors, help with optimizing resource usage, and much more. A beautiful and enthralling field of innovation.

The LASER World of PHOTONICS 2017 is just around the corner. What will Trumpf be focusing on this time?

Leibinger: Overall we will be presenting numerous world premieres and innovations in an area of more than 600 square meters. These also include the premiere of the second TruDisk model in our new generation of disc lasers and a completely new range of marking lasers. Another focus is ultrashort pulse technology. Here we will be presenting a new beam guidance method that has the potential to revolutionize laser material processing with ultrashort pulse lasers. This addresses the constraints on transmitting intensive ultrashort laser pulses via flexible glass fibers because of their tendency to destroy them. We will also be presenting an energy-efficient diode laser that is suitable not only for conventional applications such as soldering, hardening or laser-application welding, but also facilitates industrial applications that place high demands on beam quality. And to take your last question a little further: we will be exhibiting a range of solutions for networked manufacturing and Industry 4.0. Here the focus is on condition-based services for state and trend analyses in networked laser networks, and the basis for this is provided by our TruConnect technology.

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