Joining us via Zoom this week is William Benner, the President and CTO of Pangolin Laser Systems. We will discuss laser technology and what he's doing to change laser-powered innovation.
Pangolin Laser Systems
William got into electronics because of his father, who worked as an engineer at NASA. I attended college to study electronics but was also in a rock band. During my time in a rock band, the focus was not always on the music. We enjoyed being flashy and creative and got people excited about it, which is where I found my interests in lasers. Eventually, the band faded away, but my love for lasers continued, and I wondered how I could do business out of it. Fast forward to today, and we are the only laser-powered innovation company in the United States and manufacture products for people who conduct laser shows such as clubs, concerts, etc.
How big is your company? We started in 1986 and have a total of 35 people scattered around the world. We manufacture 100% of our software in the U.S and sell a lot of hardware and software overseas with the help of our sister companies in Slovenia and China.
Who are your main customers? William says the customers consist of theme parks such as Disney World and Universal Studios, the NFL, NBA, NHL, tours, concerts, and corporate events. Most of our customers are not direct but contract out production companies to utilize our products. In my experience, customers are not typically the best source for innovation.
Do your customers often come to you with ideas, or do you develop them? William said it's the customers that are usually asking us to adapt our technology to their ideas. We look at how close their idea is to what we already do, and how much time and money it will cost the customer and us. We go where we need to go to help bring our technologies to other markets and benefits.
Experience with Laser-Powered Innovation
Laser shows can get crazy and creative. What are some of the craziest things you guys have seen or done? William says one of his peers was approached by the Chief Marketing Officer of Coca Cola, offering a million dollars to put a logo on the moon. One company has come up with an idea of sky lasers serving as beacons being projected into the sky. We don't know what this will look like, but you'll only know if you experiment. One customer came to us wanting to project lasers into space, and we had to figure out how to make it safe and reliable. We developed a product and formed a separate company that sells the product.
Advice for the Listeners
Given all your experience, what advice would you give to the listeners? William said it is a lesson he learned quite recently. In the past, I would ask myself how I would put together a product for a customer. For our last three projects, what helped was not asking how, but imagining what it would look like if it already existed. Write it down, and that becomes a map to get you to where you are going. It's not business advice, but when it comes to innovation, its how to get there. This turns all the “how” questions to something more tangible and visible.
What are some challenges you have faced with laser-powered innovation? William says that laser scanners need to be filled with epoxy. I had an idea of how to do it, but I tried it, and it did not work. As soon as it failed, I came up with another idea to solve the problem. Yes, my idea failed, but it led to a solution that wound up being much easier and better. While it hurts sometimes, failures lead to success over time and begin a new pathway to solving a problem.
If you want to stay up to date with William Benner and his work on laser-powered innovation, check out his website here.
About our Guest: William Benner
William Brenner is the President and Chief Technology Officer of Pangolin Laser Systems. In addition to receiving more than 25 international awards for technical achievement, products invented by Benner and manufactured by Pangolin are used by companies such as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Boeing, and Samsung.
To know more about laser technology and laser-powered innovation, listen to this week's show: Laser-Powered Innovation.