THE GOAL: to create-make-sell. 40 years for Lithuanian commercial lasers!
Lithuanian laser manufacturers and foreign guests traditionally gathered at the community event, the 18th conference “Lasers. Science and Technology 2023” in Oro Dubingiai (Molėtai) on August 25-26th to share their experience, exchange news and celebrate the 40th anniversary of commercial laser production.
The history of Lithuanian commercial lasers
During the conference, speakers introduced the listeners to the rich history of the birth, development, and sales of Lithuanian lasers, dating back to the times of the Soviet Union, when Lithuanian laser physics specialists of that time, compared to their colleagues abroad, having only minimal conditions and opportunities to create and manufacture lasers, thanks to their hard work and persistence, surprised the world with unique Lithuanian lasers. Being a laser physicist at that time meant not only the application of physics knowledge in the construction of laser systems, but also the knowledge of the work of an engineer, carpenter, and glassblower, because the parts for these systems had to be created and manufactured by oneself. Despite all the difficulties, the first commercial picosecond laser PL 1020 (1987) prototype Vijuka was produced at the Institute of Physics in 1979. The Pilot Factory of Laser and Electronic Equipment of the Institute of Physics of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences was founded In 1983, which later became Eksma.The first commercial Lithuanian picosecond laser was demonstrated at the international exhibition in Munich In 1986, and after that sales started to the University of Münster, Hungary, England, Japan, and later to the rest of the world. “Each Lithuanian laser sold at that time was unique” – said Rimantas Kraujalis, one of the first laser developers, jokingly adding – “If you wanted to sell a laser, you had to sell a scientist with it”.
Current challenges and future opportunities
What are the current tasks and challenges of photonics? What are the future markets for lasers? These are questions that must be answered in order to remain competitive. “The key to the future markets is the simplicity of laser systems, the principle of laser operation and adaptability,” – said Sebastian Henkel, representative of the Aspericon company, to the conference participants. Lithuanian laser manufacturers, as well as for global , the supply of microelectronics and raw materials, investment on a European scale, and the development of photonics champions become a challenge. However, next to the challenges there are always opportunities, such as the further development and use of lasers in medicine, the military industry, machine production, industrial modernization and “greening” and other areas important to society. “Lasers are always a flag” – the importance of photonics was emphasized to the participants of the conference by the president of the Lithuanian Laser Association, dr. Gediminas Račiukaitis. According to Sebastian Henkel, the democratization of laser technology is happening through the digitization process. “Digitalization is becoming one of the strategic guidelines for industrial companies in order to remain competitive and innovative, and laser technologies not only enable it, but also digitize themselves. Companies do this by implementing advanced technologies, digitizing business processes more effectively. European digital innovation centers, such as EDIH4IAE.LT, help companies in the implementation of digital solutions by performing an expert assessment and are an excellent platform that allows you to get all the necessary information and help in a one-stop shop” – says Mantas Jonelis, digitalization expert at EDIH4IAE.LT.
Does Lithuania need photonics specialists in the future?
The Lithuanian photonics ecosystem must constantly renew itself and be filled with new participants. In the near future, Lithuanian laser technology companies may face a shortage of physics specialists, and this is not only a problem for Lithuania, but also for other countries. The audience of the conference had the opportunity to think, and the participants of the panel discussion “Popularization of physical sciences: what to do so that students choose this branch, and students stay” discussed how to interest students so that they would not hesitate to study physics after graduation of school. During the event, teachers who devoted their lives to physics and trained many Lithuanian photonics specialists were honored and awarded.