Femlight, a small Bordeaux-based company, is about to take on the heavyweights in cutting-edge technologies to win a share of their contracts. The company specializes in fiber lasers, an innovative technology that it has refined significantly. The start-up was founded in 2003 by François Salin, a CNRS researcher previously in charge of the Center for Intense Lasers and Applications,1 and Philippe Métivier, an engineer with 20 years of experience in optics companies. Today, they are busy adding the finishing touches to their company's flagship product, a laser called Eole. The technology used is based on special optical fibers, but this device delivers intense pulses of around 10 nanoseconds with excellent beam quality. Compact and easy to use, it is no less powerful than conventional lasers, meaning that it can cut or slice off material with sub-millimeter precision. The electronics industry could be the first beneficiary of this technology, and use it to cut out components or manufacture flat screens and solar panels. But Femlight also has its sights on other industrial activities, ranging from cutting diamonds to marking serial numbers deep into car parts. In short, the fiber laser market is continually diversifying.
Ever since its creation, Femlight has been racking up one success story after another. It won two awards as part of the national competition spearheading the creation of innovative start-ups, one in the “Emerging” category in 2003, and the other in the “Developing” category in 2004. Nevertheless, “the company is still in its development stages, although we have already sold a few units to research laboratories, especially in the military. This gives us a better understanding of our products' strengths and weaknesses,” comments Salin. Furthermore, Femlight has established a partnership with Quantel, a company that already has a strong foothold in the laser sector. “Stepping up to large-scale production raises problems in terms of industrialization: All the parts need to be perfectly identical. That is why we teamed up with an experienced company that could provide such expertise. Furthermore, Quantel is a high-profile company in the international arena and can open up new markets for us,” stresses Salin.
But Femlight, which already holds several licensing agreements for CNRS patents, has definitely not severed its ties with the world of research. In fact, it regularly accepts PhD students with CIFRE scholarships.2 “If work in research was not introduced early into the process, we would still be selling the same product in 10 years' time, which is not a viable prospect,” concludes the researcher-entrepreneur.
1. Centre de lasers intenses et applications (CNRS / CEA / University of Bordeaux-I joint Lab).
2. CIFRE agreements bring together three partners: a masters graduate, a company, and a laboratory, ultimately leading to a PhD thesis.