Photonics West doesn’t disappoint

SAN JOSE, CA-With a record 17,320 attendees (up 10% from last year) and a sell-out number of more than 1000 exhibitors, Photonics West had a ‘buzz’ not seen since the days before the-dare I say it-telecom bubble.

SAN JOSE, CA - With a record 17,320 attendees (up 10% from last year) and a sell-out number of more than 1000 exhibitors, Photonics West had a ‘buzz’ not seen since the days before the-dare I say it-telecom bubble. Lynn Strickland, VP of marketing and strategic development at Melles Griot (Carlsbad, CA), summed up the feeling in Tuesday’s Executive Panel: Market Directions and Implications for the World of Photonics when he said, “It’s all photonics,” referring to the ubiquitous presence of photonics in our everyday lives. From our cellular phones to our wide-screen televisions to the rise of solar energy and laser skin treatments, photonics is wielding a stronger and stronger presence in society.

In the official post-show press release issued by Photonics West 2007 event organizer the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE; Bellingham, WA), this year’s conference-held in San Jose, CA from January 20-25-“set a new high-water mark” according to SPIE director of events Janice Walker. In addition to the record attendance and sell-out exhibition, the conference hosted over 3000 technical presentations and 70 professional development courses.

LFW’s Marketplace Seminar

Now in its 17th year, the standing-room-only crowd (up approximately 20% from last year) attending the annual >Laser Focus World Marketplace Seminar (www.marketplaceseminar.com) on Monday, January 22nd mirrored SPIE’s overall conference success. In his opening Review and Forecast for Global Laser Markets, LFW chief editor and associate publisher Steve Anderson described the overall laser industry as “bullish but cautious,” indicating that the forecasted $6 billion laser market in 2007 hinged on continuing sales and operating income increases amidst a questionable economic picture and “basically flat” R&D funding for the foreseeable future.

This “cautious” message permeates the Laser Marketplace 2007 feature article published in the January issue of LFW magazine (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/282527), which provides a qualitative and quantitative overview of the diode and non-diode laser marketplace in 2006 and a forecast for 2007. Likewise, director of optoelectronics research at Strategies Unlimited (Mountain View, CA) Robert Steele called the diode laser industry “cautiously optimistic” as he forecasted 8.4% growth to 3.36 billion in 2007, representing just over half of the overall laser market. Steele expects telecom laser diode growth to continue, but cautioned that average-selling-price declines could outpace unit growth for diode lasers used in the information storage industry.

Industrial lasers for materials and microelectronics processing saw “another good year” according to David Belforte, publisher and editor for Industrial Laser Solutions magazine, in his presentation entitled World Markets for Industrial Laser Applications. Unit sales and revenue rose about 7% and system revenues rose about 9% for industrial lasers-a category that does not include lasers for lithography.

Medical Laser Report editor Kathy Kincade said that sales growth for medical lasers would continue at the same pace in 2007 as for 2006-at approximately 14-15%-noting that aesthetic applications are still leading the way. CEO of Spectros Corporation (Portola Valley, CA) David Benaron followed with a presentation on the biomedical optics market and highlighted the staggering growth in this industry from 0.5 billion in 1985 to close to 2 billion in 1995, to a staggering 76 billion 20 years later in 2005. Benaron said that there is now a blurring and integration move taking place within biomedical optics, with device companies becoming pharmaceutical companies through acquisitions and mergers, making the biomedical optics marketplace more and more difficult to forecast and define.

Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA; Washington, DC) president Michael Lebby agreed with Robert Steele that the telecom laser diode marketplace is healthy. “OPTOmism is everywhere” was the message from Lebby regarding the overall OPTOelectronics marketplace as venture capital investment continues to rise due to the convergence of new consumer applications for photonics and continued growth in the industrial and scientific sectors.

Concluding the seminar with his presentation on Laser Materials Processing and Markets in China, Manufacturing Process Lab manager for GE Global Research (Shanghai, China) Henry Peng reminded us that much of the worldwide growth in laser and optoelectronics markets can be attributed to the emerging middle class in China and other developing nations. Peng said that in the next 20 years, China will be the largest power consumer in the world, with an estimated 250 million middle-class people desiring the latest photonic technology for displays, cell phones, renewable energy, medicine, and materials processing.

Invest in Germany luncheon

In addition to China, Germany is undergoing somewhat of a photonics renaissance due to government decreases in the corporate tax rate. SPIE executive director Eugene Arthurs highlighted this fact in his presentation at the Invest in Germany (www.invest-in-germany.com) luncheon, which followed the opening presentation by Dieter Althaus, Prime Minister of the German State of Thuringia, who pointed out that the U.S. remains the number one investor in Germany.

Among presenters from Invest in Germany and Fraunhofer IPMS, Carl Zeiss Group CFO Michael Kaschke said that Germany has more than 200,000 employees in the field of optics and photonics-two industries that he says enable an additional one million jobs in other manufacturing-related sectors within Germany. Kaschke is proud that one of two semiconductor chips in the world is manufactured with equipment that incorporates Zeiss lithography optics, and that German companies like Trumpf, Jenoptik, and Linos are compelling success stories as well.

Executive panel looks into the future

With the expanding world economy and the corresponding population increase, a sales decline in the photonics industry is hard to envision. However, individual companies struggle with matching their capabilities to the right market sector, and with making sure that their 5-year-plan forecasts ‘the next big thing’ in photonics. This struggle was evident again this year in the Photonics West Executive Panel. Although most members of the panel agreed with Lynn Strickland that “It’s all photonics,” none of the panel members-perhaps for proprietary reasons-offered a clear vision for the future of photonics nor for the next wave of photonic products that would generate R&D excitement.

In addition to predictions on the future of photonics, question & answer topics covered in the panel included the pros and cons of the fiber laser business, the photovoltaics market, displays, and industry consolidation.

Concerning fiber lasers, Robert Edmund, CEO and chairman of the Board of Edmund Optics (Barrington, NJ), was concerned that the proliferation of fiber lasers may hurt the optics industry by reducing the need for free-space optics used with other laser designs. And regarding the vertical integration debate-with moderator Steve Eglash, principal, Worldview Technology Partners (Palo Alto, CA) acknowledging that IPG Photonics has the market share in fiber lasers while other manufacturers are in the noise-Randy Heyler, director of strategic marketing at Newport (Irvine, CA), pointed out that IPG’s share targets industrial processing and that there was plenty of room for fiber lasers in other applications that are just now being enabled.

When asked by Eglash why Hamamatsu (Bridgewater, NJ) was not in the solar market (referring to photovoltaics as “a big photodetector”), Ken Kaufmann in New Technology Development for Hamamatsu said that his company was instead concentrating on the biomedical market towards improving healthcare, although he acknowledged the thriving solar-energy market and its growing impact in terms of silicon supply shortages.

New product announcements

Improvements to efficiency and cost of small, visible and near-IR lasers were evident on the exhibit floor. Alfalight (Madison, WI) showed high-efficiency 808 nm laser diodes in both fiber-coupled and chip-on-carrier forms. The power-conversion efficiency of the devices is just below 60% at room temperature and exceeds 55% over their entire 0°C to 60°C operating-temperature range. The diodes are important for pumping neodymium-doped microlasers; such lasers, when frequency-doubled, will form an inexpensive green light source for full-color microprojection displays.

Coherent (Santa Clara, CA) exhibited a novel “in situ” image-characterization sensor to be used in photolithographic exposure tools (such as steppers and scanners). Coherent’s innovation is to build these probes directly into a silicon wafer that can be run through the normal exposure process. Data are stored within the device itself, which is wireless.

Other new products debuting at Photonics West are worthy of mention: The Chameleos LED illuminator from Edmund Optics is a controllable, long-life RGB source for machine-vision applications that targets the replacement of quartz halogen sources. In addition to new optical scanners with improved motors and digital servo drivers, General Scanning (Billerica, MA) introduced a software application that allows the user to easily create a software setup optimized for the particular application. Electrophysics (Fairfield, NJ) debuted its Silver 450 thermal camera that offers high sensitivity (20 mK), accuracy, and speed (1-400 Hz) at an affordable cost. Hamamatsu highlighted its family of back-thinned time delay integration (TDI) mode CCDs, described in the January issue of LFW (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/282673). And Opnext introduced what it is calling “The World’s Highest Output Power” red laser diode, which achieves a 90 mW output at 642 nm.

-Gail Overton and John Wallace

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