Site: Lasertron, Inc.
37 North Avenue
Burlington, MA 01803
Date Visited: October 6, 1994
Report Author: P. Shumate
Lasertron was established in 1978 to manufacture InGaAsP lasers, which were first fabricated by the founder, J. J. Hsieh, in 1976. With its long-wavelength packaged lasers and subsequently its high-speed photodetectors, Lasertron has enabled many U.S. manufacturers to enter the 1.3 Ám transmission equipment business. Lasertron currently employs 180 people, about 60 of whom are in engineering. The company has $30 million in sales, mostly in Europe and Asia. In addition to devices designed in-house, Lasertron is currently transferring 980 nm laser chip technology from IBM Zurich, and has licensed the technology for uncooled loop lasers from Bellcore. The company has a small amount (<5%) of government funding.
Lasertron has two buildings totaling 70,000 square feet, including material growth, packaging, test, and burn-in facilities. All manufacturing is done at a facility in Burlington, MA, which is where the JTEC team met for this visit.
Lasertron's philosophy is to focus on a narrow product line and excel there, selling to major manufacturers such as ATT, Alcatel, and Siemens. The aim is to know the customers' needs, satisfy them, and if the product technology already exists, then the company does not reinvent it. (Company reps also feel it is important to know the customer's customers.) To this end, Lasertron has been able to rely on commercial EPI suppliers. It has been unable to find a viable U.S. manufacturer of component packages for its products, and thus it relies on one European and two Japanese suppliers.
With regard to subsystem products, Lasertron has looked at the datacom market, particularly FDDI, but concludes that, although the numbers are large, the price objectives are so small that there is no significant revenue opportunity there, given the number of suppliers involved. In other market segments, however, Lasertron does offer subsystems, notably as a supplier of analog fiber-optic links for cellular telephone applications.
JTEC panelists asked Lasertron representatives about their interest in optical amplifiers (EDFAs), but they have no commercial plans, due to, among other factors, their sensitivity to being seen as competing with their customers. Lasertron is presently the dominant supplier of 980 nm pump lasers to the EDFA market segment.
With Lasertron's success in fabrication and packaging, a problem that the company often encounters is the desire on the part of second- and third-tier customers for the supplying of small quantities of prototype products at large, volume-discounted prices (e.g., 10,000 pieces). Since volumes depend on the commercial success of these companies' new systems, agreement to manufacture such specials carries with it commercial risk, though one which is unavoidable in Lasertron's markets.
JTEC team members asked whether the company has considered specifying, selecting, or modifying its lasers for high-linearity analog applications like cable TV transmission. It currently sells products into selected analog market applications, e.g., cellular telephone and CATV Return Video Path Lasers, but it has no plans to compete with Ortel and Japanese manufacturers for the supply of Head-End Analog DFB lasers.
After the meeting, the JTEC team toured the packaging, testing, and burn-in facilities.
Lasertron supplies advanced devices to major equipment manufacturers worldwide, generating about $170,000 in revenues per employee. The company has excellent facilities and highly reliable, high-performance long-wavelength devices.