Designing laser systems made easy
The start-up BeamXpert and its software
The Adlershof-based BeamXpert GmbH is developing software for real-time simulation of laser propagation in optical systems. It supports developers designing laser systems. Its two founders met at the Technical University Berlin (TU) in the 1990s and, although they went on with different careers, they stayed in touch.
Is a standard lens for 30 euros sufficient, or should an aspherical lens be used that costs at ten times the cost? Where must the lenses and mirrors be installed to achieve the right laser beam characteristics for the respective cutting, welding, or hardening process? Bernd Eppich and Guido Mann, who both have PhD in physics, were confronted with these questions hundreds of times throughout their career. Each time they had to pull out their calculators. Eppich, however, was aware that this was not a durable solution and started programming his own software tools to aid him in designing laser systems.
Over the years, the software grew more complex and Eppich decided it was time to share it with more people than just his colleagues. Together with his co-founder Mann and a 25-year career in lasers, he decided to start his own business. Last year, they founded BeamXpert GmbH to professionally market Eppich’s software called BeamXpertDESIGNER.
The two men met in a TU working group of then-professor Horst Weber in the 1990s. Eppich later went to the Ferdinand-Braun-Institute, Leibniz-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik (FBH), where he focused on measuring, analysing and characterising laser beams. Mann started working for the BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing in Lichterfeld and focused on testing optical fibres. “We stayed in touch the entire time,” he says.
Eppich updated Mann on the progress of his software tools and his idea to start a business. Mann did not hesitate to join in. Eppich’s boss at the FBH, Günther Tränkle, advised against their original plan to start the business on the side. “He suggested applying for the EXIST business grant and to focus entirely on founding, developing and marketing the software,” says Eppich. Besides providing them with the financial means, the founders were completely convinced of the EXIST programme. It let their institutes hand in the grant applications and supported them by providing infrastructure, advice and support. Their affiliation with the FBH and the support of the transfer team of the Leibniz Association provided them with the security they needed to go forward with their business idea.
The two founders have meanwhile passed through the grant phase. They won two business plan competitions as well as increasingly gaining recognition. Now they have started sharing their software with select customers. Of course, they cannot say who, but it’s certainly the who’s-who of laser technology. “We just recently completed a customer survey and received very positive feedback,” says Mann. Every second user indicated they would buy the software immediately; the rest was interested in buying a year after the sales launch.
The founders are glad about the level of recognition for their approach. Contrary to the products of the competition, their software follows a pragmatic approach. While users are usually required to type multitudes of parameters into an entry form, they focus on an intuitive workflow and simple, interactive 3D visualisation using CAD. Using simple drag-and-drop, optical components can be placed into the system, moved around and exchanged. The laser beam simulation provides the user with immediate feedback on how the changes will affect the setup.
“We focus on every-day requirements,” says Eppich. When designing a system or planning repairs, developers and service engineers are not particularly bothered about what comes after the second decimal place. What they need, are fast, reliable data on, for example, the position of the lens relation to the radiation source to ensure the desired laser beam characteristics. This is exactly what the software does. “Other software surely provides more precise data for high-end application. Our software is designed for projects, where the input variables show deviations of plus or minus five percent,” says Mann, echoing the anecdotal feedback of a user from the industry. This user’s company has only one simulation expert who is able to use the standard optical software, which is very complex. While he was testing the software from Adlershof, his colleagues queued up in front of his office – just to get a quick answer to a straightforward design question. The anonymous user now has more time to focus on other pressing problems.
By Peter Trechow for Adlershof Journal