Last April, when fiber-laser developer IMRA America (Ann Arbor, MI) signed a supplier agreement with Carl Zeiss Meditec (Jena, Germany) for Zeiss’ Visumax laser keratome system, the event marked a significant turning point for IMRA. Founded in 1990 by Minoru Toyoda, chairman of Aisin Seiki Co. (Kariya City, Japan), IMRA has a reputation for developing and delivering quality femtosecond fiber lasers and for consistently defending its strong patent position through licensing agreements with SPI Lasers, Toptica, Aculight, Nufern, Naval Research Lab, and others.
But IMRA’s formalized relationship with Carl Zeiss Meditec is much more than a licensing or supplier agreement. According to Kiyomi Monro, director of business development, marketing, and sales at IMRA America, it has become the impetus for a major shift in the company’s structure and strategy.
“We are going through many changes as a result of our relationship with Carl Zeiss Meditec,” Monro says. “We are going from being a research company to becoming a systems supplier, which means there are new pressures in terms of on-time delivery, design for manufacturability, and quality assurance programs. We are still doing advanced research such as pulsed laser deposition and fiber research. But there is definitely a shift occurring in terms of our company culture.”
Carl Zeiss Meditec received U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance to market the laser keratome applications of its VisuMax femtosecond laser system in late 2006. The VisuMax system uses IMRA’s femtosecond fiber-laser technology—specifically the FCPA μJewel—for LASIK (Laser Assisted in situ Keratomileusis), the most common procedure for surgical vision correction. The procedure consists of two main surgical steps: the initial cut of a corneal lamella (the flap) and the subsequent excimer laser ablation to achieve actual correction of the refractive error. The global installed base of excimer lasers is estimated at more than 5000 units.
“Carl Zeiss is developing and clinically testing a new procedure called FLEx (femtosecond lenticular extraction) that is designed to replace the current two-step excimer-laser-based procedure with a single femtosecond laser that will do both the flap creation and the vision correction,” Monro says. “This is a very exciting development, and we are anxiously waiting for the response from the market.”
IMRA is also looking at applications and relationships in the industrial, semiconductor, and consumer electronics markets.
“We are working at the breadboard level on next-generation applications with major manufacturers, and this means needing to cultivate a new mentality of how to create a ‘box’ that more adequately meets the market needs,” Monro says. “By the end of 2008 we will have a better idea of how to navigate the relationship between the old IMRA and the new IMRA.”