Voice of the Modern Manufacturing Economy Since 2013

Laser Technology

by Brad Smith on February 27, 2017, 09:15 am MST

www.lasertech.com

Centennial, Colorado

Founded: 1986

Privately owned

Employees: 115

Industry: Electronics & Aerospace

Products: Laser sensors

President Eric Miller thinks that sense of camaraderie is one of the reasons his company -- which pioneered the laser speed gun -- has been successful.

Miller takes serious pride in Laser Technology, Inc. (LTI) having a familial culture. "We have grown over the years," he says, "but we're still relatively small. We have a very tight culture here with our employees, customers and dealers. We're all team members. We try to balance employee work and their personal lives. We help them with challenges they face because relationships are the most important thing. We have a lot of long-term employees and also long-term relationships with dealers and distributors, as well as the customers. They need to know they can trust us."

LTI has customer relationships almost as old as the 30-year-old manufacturer, especially in the law enforcement community. The company designed and built the first commercial laser speed detection device and continues to be the leader in that category. Its latest device, the PicoDigiCam SR, includes a high-definition lens, an auto iris, auto focus, and communications software.

"We pioneered the handheld speed gun," Miller says, "and it continues to be very important market segment for us." Besides speed guns, LTI also manufactures devices for accident mapping, traffic sensors, and traffic monitoring, almost all of which are sold to law enforcement or other government agencies.

The second-biggest market for LTI is what Miller calls professional measurement using lasers, a market it pioneered in 1991-92 with a handheld "pulse station" that measures distances and angles and includes an electronic compass to measure heading. These devices are used to locate a point in three dimensions for mapping and data collection. Customers include those in forestry, scientific studies, or Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. They're also used for digital maps of infrastructure in cities and in mining.

Among its devices in this category is the TruPoint 300, using pulse-laser technology for field data collection and mapping with accuracy down to a single millimeter. The technology also is used in a series of TruPulse devices for handheld recreational rangefinders. The latter, in a partnership with Bushnell Optics that began 20 years ago, aims at the golfing and hunting markets. Miller says these were the first consumer-focused rangefinder products, and they now have higher-volume sales than the professional devices -- primarily because the PGA allows their use.

One area that gained LTI a great deal of attention came in 1991 when the company developed a close proximity laser used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for space docking missions. Using the technology developed for laser speed guns, LTI devised a handheld laser to measure both distance and speed to support the maiden flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992.

"The amazing thing about the whole NASA project is that LTI only had to make a few minor modifications to the standard LTI 20-20 [laser speed gun] to make it approved for use on the Space Shuttle," Miller recalls. "While the changes for NASA were relatively minor, they were still very challenging -- like how could we make a measurement through the shuttle overhead window that was made up of seven panes of laminated glass. We also had to paint the unit with specially approved aerospace paint that wouldn't emit toxic gases inside the shuttle and possibly harm the astronauts." LTI continued to design products for the Space Shuttle until it was grounded for good in 2011.

The company does most of it design and manufacturing at its Centennial facility. Due to its global sales and distribution, about 20 percent of its manufacturing is outsourced to Asia. In 2004, LTI received the Colorado Governor's Award for Excellence in Exporting. LTI began international sales in 1989, initially to Canada, and now has global distribution through 120 dealers.

Despite the company's global reach, employees are never far from the minds of LTI's leaders. That's why the company hosts monthly get-togethers at its 47,000-square-foot facility. These little celebrations recognize employees on their work anniversaries or with a cake on their birthdays.

Challenges: "The biggest one for us is that we are a fairly small Colorado company," says Miller. "We have markets throughout the world, in over 100 countries in the world. That distribution covers pretty much two market segments. One of our big challenge is to meet the needs of companies around the world and how we can make them happy with our small team in Colorado.

Opportunities: "There are quite a few and it varies by market," says Miller. "We have four main markets and two make up 80 percent of the business. Opportunity and competition vary by the market you look at. We have opportunities to continue to develop our technology, an opportunity to continue to innovate our technology and continue to be the leader in technical engineering ideas. Also, because we have all these eyes and ears around the world we have opportunities to leverage our relationships. We've been working in international markets for 25 to 28 years and have a lot of relationships and partners. That's an opportunity for us to leverage those markets."

Needs: Notes Miller: "We need a crystal ball. I think we need to continue to bring on key personnel resources, especially on the engineering side. The Colorado market, with big companies coming in, there is somewhat of a shortage of high-quality engineering people. Our company is only as good as who we have on the team. We need to keep innovating, [developing] new ideas and new things that will be popular to be successful 10 years from now."

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