Ken Gross

Ken Gross

Ken Gross

Track: Optics
Undergrad: Univeristy of Oregon, Eugene, OR - Physics
Internship: nLight
Current Job Title: Senior Laser Applications Engineer at nLIGHT

I started my internship at nLIGHT working with one of our existing product lines, our PEARL pumps. These were the mainstay solid state fiber delivered pumps nLIGHT manufactured for years and were the pumps that truly changed the way solid state lasers are packaged industry-wide. I initially dealt with a specific customer project where they were using our PEARL in a very special scenario and method, using my optics knowledge to help troubleshoot their project and lead them in the right direction to ensure they were successful. Following that, I stayed in the PEARL group and worked toward creating a more uniform laser output in terms of beam shape and properties. This work led to the creation of a new type of gradient index fiber that helped increase pump to pump repeatability to an even higher standard. This type of fiber became my first patent application and is also my first issued patent. This work also led to a few small manufacturing line changes that helped increase repeatability across all PEARL products.

After my time in the PEARL lab, I moved to our micro-applications lab, where we put light on material for specific customer applications, as well as testing our lasers in real-world scenarios. I spent 4 years in this lab working with our nanosecond IR and green pulsed fiber lasers and our 50ps pulsed fiber laser with average powers up to 25W and peak powers in the 100’s of kW. Each set of experiments we ran typically required a new optical setup, whether we were processing the part with a 2D stage or 2D and 3D scanners. A large portion of that work dealt with the processing of transparent conductive films for touch screen patterning. That work led to the submission of several more patents, a few of which have been issued so far. This worked involved a lot of optical fine tuning and huge amounts of statistical analyses. We also created a new method by which 3D galvo-based scanners get calibrated. This new method improved the accuracy and repeatability of these scanner systems by orders of magnitude.

About 3 years ago nLIGHT officially opened our Industrial Fiber Laser group, taking advantage of our industry-leading pumps, proprietary fiber production methods and huge wealth of brain power. I moved to this group as we knew applications support would be a huge portion of proving out the new fiber lasers.

I currently reside with our Industrial group, running our applications lab where we test, stress and provide customer support related to our fiber laser products that cover single mode sources up to our currently released 8kW multi-mode products. We have 3 main processing capabilities in-house right now, including a 6-axis robotic welding cell, a small R&D 2D cutting tool, and an industrial scale production-level flat bed cutter. I am in charge of our lab and have a fair bit of direct customer interaction, including hosting customer/partner visits, teleconferencing, or going to our customers/partners sites to assist them with current projects. The apps lab is also a direct source for much of our marketing material, so some creativity gets to be displayed while we make videos or take pictures of current work for tradeshows, customer support, or general marketing.

My job is very rewarding, as I am one of the very few people at nLIGHT who actually get to use our lasers for putting "light on material" and studying the effect of that interaction. The work we do in the apps lab helps customers and marketing, but we also provide a lot of direct feedback to our research and development teams, giving them real-world scenarios and helping them make the next-generation fiber laser even better than the previous. I take pride in my ability to find and weed out any potential weak points in the laser architecture so our customers will never have to deal with down-time at their sites. Any scientific company will encourage free thought, and nLIGHT has been really amazing in this regard. I currently have 3 issued patents with 10+ pending. I enjoy thinking outside the box, and nLIGHT fully supports this.

The master's program gave me a very good overview of laser and optics fundamentals, allowing me to literally jump feet first into my internship. The amount of faith and trust nLIGHT put in me during my internship was immense. While I am sure some of it was due to me personally, I know that we as a company place a lot of trust in the interns that come in through the UO program because we know they have received a thorough education, are self-starters and motivated.

The advice I would give to any future or current student is to believe in yourself, but don't be afraid to ask questions! When I got to nLIGHT to start my internship, I felt minuscule when I compared myself to my colleagues who had been in the industry for years. This program can't teach you everything, but it will give you the solid foundation you need to really flourish wherever you go in the photonics world. Since my internship, I have been accepted as an equal in a lot of regards, and am considered our resident expert in several fields, which gives me great pride!

Go Ducks!