Kyocera SLD Las
The power of light
Kyocera SLD Laser’s vision is to pioneer the future of light; with cutting edge technology and a passion for innovation, it continues to be a guiding torch for the manufacturing industry
SLD Laser and Kyocera Corporation (Kyocera) had a strong and long-standing relationship prior to Kyocera’s acquisition of the former in January 2021. SLD Laser was founded in 2013 by Nobel Prize winner Professor Shuji Nakamura and solid-state lighting pioneers Professor Steve DenBaars, Dr Paul Rudy and Dr James Raring. James shares greater detail about his company, and the innovation that is being invested into its success following the recent acquisition. “From the time that we’ve spent together over the years, both in and out of the office, it was clear that the companies were a great match in business and in culture. We share a common vision of how gallium nitride devices, and the resulting integrated products and applications, will benefit our society and our world. Kyocera is committed to enabling and facilitating Kyocera SLD Laser (KSLD) to pursue our vision of pioneering the future of light. Equally, KSLD’s management is determined to drive growth and value creation through new innovation. Consideringeach of these perspectives, the acquisition is working out very well,” says James.
Today, KSLD has about 200 employees with four primary locations in the US, including two sites in Goleta, California. This is where its headquarters are based, and where the company conducts epitaxial growth of the semiconductor materials, and performs research and development on its semiconductor chip technology and laser light sources. “Our largest site is in Fremont, where we have our primary semiconductor chip manufacturing facility and undergo most of our business functions; it’s a great complement to the design and development center in Tucson, Arizona. We also have a small sales office and showroom in Los Angeles, California,” James explains. The business has multiple manufacturing partners overseas in locations such as Thailand, Malaysia, and China, where its California-made semiconductor chips are integrated into component products.
On top of its impressive expansion, KSLD is fully automotive quality certified to ISO 9001 and IATF 16949 standards, which is buttressed by a strong and ambitious workforce. Together, these two quality components have assisted in making KSLD a certified ‘Great Place to Work’ for three years in a row, according to James.
But the company is on a mission: to lead the global manufacturing industry with innovative laser light technology. As part of its strategy to achieve international status, KSLD has invented and commercialized its own LaserLight technology, which combines the high brightness output from the blue laser diodes with a phosphor wavelength converter. “With this, we can then convert some of the blue light to yellow light, such that the resulting output emission is an extremely bright, safe white light,” James notes.
The laser light applications of today include automotive lighting and specialty lighting, while KSLD’s products deliver more than ten times the brightness, and more than ten times the beam distance versus LED to provide maximum visibility and safety to the end user. “We are actively developing and commercializing our Beyond Lighting products, where we fuse next generation capabilities of sensing, LiFi communication, and IR illumination,” he adds, a topic we dive into later.
This proves that the inner workings of KSLD’s operation is really where the company shines. “Our LaserLight sources enable high precision depth sensing and LiDAR to form lights that can ‘see’, and are configurable for high-speed data transfer that is 100 times faster than that of LEDs. Additional large and emerging markets for gallium nitride-based laser diode products include large venue project display systems, where blue lasers are replacing legacy high intensity discharge bulbs, biomedical applications, and industrial applications including welding, cutting, and 3D printing,” he continues to explain.
“We understand that although there are large and growing markets for these laser chips, there is an exciting amount of future value with continued innovation through upward product integration, which is what spawned our LaserLight white light technology.” To make this happen, the company combines blue laser diodes with phosphor wavelength converter materials to make white light that is 10-to-100 times brighter than LEDs. “This high brightness allows for drastic benefits over LED lighting technology, including a range that is ten times longer, to increase visibility and safety. It also supports smaller optics and fiber optic delivery for a light form that can be ten times smaller to completely change the lighting styling – as we see in automotive lighting – or drastically reduce the size and weight of light sources in applications where size and weight are at a premium,” he says.
KSLD then takes this one step further by including infrared lasers in its LaserLight products. “The light sources are then capable of providing both visible illumination and IR illumination in a colinear emission. This powerful dual functionality can serve applications such as night vision, machine vision, automotive and mobility, as well as recreation, search and rescue, and defence and security.
“Moreover, since our LaserLight sources are based on laser diodes that have very fast temporal response characteristics, we can utilize the laser source to generate pulses of lighting for sensing applications, or as a data transmitter in LiFi, which is also known as light fidelity.” he says. The business’ development will play a vital role in the next generation of wireless communication systems. In sensing, the laser diodes emit short pulses of light, and detectors are used to sense the reflected light pulses. This leads to a time-of-flight measurement, which is then used to calculate the depth coordinate of objects and surroundings. In fact, according to James, full 3D light imaging and range mapping can be achieved using KSLD’s light sources.
“In LiFi communication, we utilize the visible and IR emission from the laser sources to transmit data at rates between ten and 100 times faster than 5G wireless networks. In this approach, we break the limitations associated with conventional wireless communications based on the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. We achieve this by enabling an extremely high data rate and highly secure data transmission with virtually unlimited spectral bandwidth across the 800 THz visible and IR spectral range, which is 2600 times larger than the 300GHz RF spectral range.
“LiFi offers wireless communication without the concerns of RF interference and can be used in RF-sensitive environments such as airplane cabins, smart factories, healthcare, secure government facilities, and smart cities. Moreover, because LiFi signals do not penetrate walls, and can be highly controlled with optical systems, the data link can be highly secure with a minimized threat of being intercepted by a bad actor.”
As a small company, KSLD has overcome tremendous technical, developmental, operational and manufacturing, and quality infrastructure challenges in order to fulfil the demand of its product. “Often, these are challenges that many outsiders and larger companies thought would be impossible for a business of our size to handle. But through teamwork, camaraderie, a strong work ethic, and a fantastic culture, we have beaten these challenges to prove our capabilities, and get to where we are today. With our fully automotive certified factories, we have successfully commercialized state-of-the-art gallium nitride chip technology, and LaserLight products that are pioneering the future of light.”
For James, the people of KSLD are the most important part of the company. “As we always say here, ‘it’s all about the people’. We strive to create a natural, positive, and transparent work environment where we support one another at all levels of the organization. Our team works very hard, with strong determination and ambition, but we always try to have fun and enjoy the work along the way,” he shares.
Looking to the future, James is very excited about the addition of two new demonstrations that were recently announced at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show. “The first was a LiFi system transmitting data at the record rate of 100 Gb/s, which is 100 times the rate of fast 5G networks. Our laser LiFi technology is under development for future commercialization, and we are extremely excited about its potential. Today, we offer LiFi demonstration kits that operate at lower speeds for customers who seek to develop their systems and applications based on LiFi.”
The second new demonstration James would like to mention is the power transmission over fiber, which was realized in conjunction with the Corporate R&D group at Kyocera Corporation. “In this system, KSLD gallium nitride violet laser diodes were used to convert electrical power to optical power. The latter was then transmitted over an optical fiber to GaN photodetectors jointly developed by KSLD and Kyocera International Inc, where the optical power was then converted back to electrical power. This demonstration of multi-watt power transmission was the first of its kind using GaN semiconductor technology. A key advantage of power transmission with light is that we can reduce the weight of all the wiring, by eliminating copper, which can have a major weight savings impact in electric vehicles and all mobile machines, airplanes, and boats,” he explains.
For James, it is critical that KSLD continues to be a world leader in innovation of gallium nitride-based technologies with strong year-on-year growth in manufacturing volumes, revenue, and profitability. He is excited for the increased adoption of LaserLight technology in the automotive and specialty lighting sectors, along with the strong emergence of the Beyond Lighting products serving IR illumination, sensing, and communications in next generation mobility, connectivity, healthcare, smart homes, and smart infrastructure.
Kyocera SLD Laser
Services: Laser light manufacturer