One of the more intriguing aspects to this year’s Laser, World of Photonics exhibition and conference in Munich, Germany, was the apparent sense of calm that has settled over the photonics industry. Life may not have returned to “pre-crash” norms, but gone is the borderline panic of late last year that accompanied plummeting revenues and stock-market freefall. In fact, according to many exhibitors in Munich, their customers are again talking about placing orders (instead of canceling them) and a fairly strong consensus emerged over the week-long conference and exhibition that there’s a gradual turnaround taking place. The general expectation seems to be that that the third and fourth quarter of this year will remain flat but stable, with slow growth returning toward the end of the year and into the first quarter of 2010.
Of course the picture is inconsistent across the various markets that drive the photonics business, and it’s clear that the manufacturing sector is still struggling. Not so for the R&D market, though, which is “almost recession proof,” according to John Ambroseo, CEO of Coherent (Santa Clara, CA), who was speaking at the CEO Round Table “Optical Technologies – Bright Hopes in Times of Crisis,” held on the exhibit floor on Tuesday morning.
Round Table participants included industry leaders from the U.S.A., France, Germany, and China–Benoit Bazire, CEO, of Qioptiq SAS); Gunther Braun, president and CEO, Rofin-Sinar (Bergkirchen, Germany); Yunfeng Gao, president, Han’s Laser Technology (Shenzhen, China); Stuart Schoenmann, CEO, CVI Melles Griot (Albuquerque, NM); and Dr. Ulrich Simon, president and CEO, Carl Zeiss MicroImaging (Jena, Germany).
Ambroseo also said that while he believes there will be an eventual benefit from the U.S. government stimulus package, none of the money committed by the Obama Administration has flowed into the economy yet. So while he expects that 2010 may be a little bit up from 2009, he says the “jury is still out” on how exactly the stimulus package is going to impact the photonics industry.
The CEOs’ discussion also covered military, materials processing, and biophotonics markets, among others. Bazire noted that night vision is a thriving market–currently growing at 25% per year–because actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have created an urgent need to protect soldiers on the ground. “The infantryman is back,” he said, “and needs to be protected.”
Several of the CEOs confirmed the healthy state of the biosciences market, although Simon explained that some of this health was due (in Germany at least) to the funding cycle, which had in some cases started before the general economic downturn. Bazire said that DNA sequencing is growing rapidly, driven in particular by the goal of personalized medicine, in which treatments are adapted to individuals based on their specific DNA.
As always, there was an abundance of product innovations and some new technologies announced.
In a somewhat unusual transatlantic collaboration, three companies, Fairchild Imaging (Milpitas, CA), Andor Technology (Belfast, Northern Ireland), and PCO (Kelheim, Germany) unveiled an “imaging breakthrough” dubbed sCMOS. The companies expect their scientific CMOS devicesto compete directly for high-end scientific imaging applications that are currently the domain of CCDs.
Among other imaging-related demonstrations was a new automated thermography system from Xenics (Leuven, Belgium) that is designed for screening individuals at passenger control points for detection of elevated body temperatures. Based on an uncooled bolometer IR camera, the system provides real-time body temperature measurements of passing travelers and is intended to help prevent the spreading of infectious diseases.
Fiber lasers were everywhere, or so it seemed. Coherent—a relatively late entrant into the fiber-laser stakes—showed a prototype fiber laser based on bar pumping. IPG Photonics (Oxford, MA) exhibited a 10 kW single-mode fiber laser (a record in a production laser). And Newport (Irvine, CA) showed a 100 W CW system. Others showing fiber lasers included GSI (Rugby, England), Trumpf (Ditzingen, Germany), and nLight (Vancouver, WA), as well as SPI Lasers (Southampton, England), which announced a new suite of products dubbed redPOWER and redENERGY aimed at a range of applications and markets.
Other product highlights included a new quasi-continuous-wave fiber-coupled multibar module from Dilas (Mainz, Germany) that delivers 500 W from an 800 µm core (790–980 nm); Newport (Irvine, CA) introduced a new Q-switched DPSS laser for solar thin-film scribing (the HIPPO 532-14); NKT Photonics (Birkerød, Denmark) introduced a new version of its “crystal fibre” series double-clad rod-type fiber; Trumpf showed its new generation of TruDisk lasers in which the per-disk output has been doubled to 4 kW; Laserline (Muelheim-Kaerlich, Germany) introduced “the world’s first 4 kW diode laser matching the beam quality of lamp-pumped YAGs;” High Q Laser showed its picoEMERALD, a compact ultrafast CARS light source; and Ophir-Spiricon (Logan, UT) announced what it calls the industry’s first built-in photodiode trigger for high-accuracy laser-beam-profiling cameras—part of the company’s line of USB 2.0 silicon CCD cameras for beam measurement.
Biophotonics was big
The World of Photonics Congress attracted approximately 3100 delegates and encompassed seven different conferences, of which two covered bio: European Conferences on Biomedical Optics and Medical Laser Applications.
For the first time, the event organizers augmented the Congress with four application-panel series, which were open to all attendees and presented in open theaters within corresponding exhibit halls. For instance, Hall B1, which was devoted to bio exhibits, hosted biomedical-focused presentations such as “Visions for future diagnostics.”
In fact, biophotonics was a major theme of the event. Among the bio conferences, photoacoustics, optical coherence tomography (OCT), and microscopy were key topics.
Related product announcements included Fianium’s (Southampton, England) SC450-PP-HE supercontinuum source with variable repetition rate, which targets such applications as STED microscopy and OCT. And biomedical applications were a major focus of Coherent’s press conference, where its announcements included an OPO for multiphoton microscopy; two compact, high-power bioinstrumentation lasers; a high-power UV laser targeting high-throughput live-cell applications; a pair of new green optically pumped semiconductor lasers (0.5 W and 1 W) for fluorescence-based bioinstrumentation.
The number of exhibitors in Munich this year—1040—was slightly higher than in 2007, with roughly 60% from outside Germany. Most were happy with the event, which seemed to buck the economic problems of late. There was certainly no shortage of after-hours parties on the show floor and the beer was readily available, just as in previous years. The exhibit got off to a slow start on Monday but picked up somewhat during the week–a small drop in total attendees to about 24,000 was attributed by the organizers to a drop in the number of visitors from the hard-hit industrial sector.
In a small departure from tradition, the next Laser, World of Photonics in Munich will be held a month earlier than usual, in May of 2011.
Editors Note: More detailed coverage of Laser, World of Photonics is available at www.laserfocusworld.com, including videos from the show floor.