‘The world’s most important meeting place’

By the time the lights went down in the Neue Messe München on June 16, more than 23,000 visitors had passed through the halls of the Laser 2005 event according to show organizers, who seemed well pleased with the 10% gain over Laser 2003.

MUNICH, GERMANY - By the time the lights went down in the Neue Messe München on June 16, more than 23,000 visitors had passed through the halls of the Laser 2005 event according to show organizers, who seemed well pleased with the 10% gain over Laser 2003. They also noted increased international participation (more than 50% from outside Germany) and a 20% rise in the number of exhibitors.

All good news for a photonics industry that, two years ago at this same conference, appeared still to be a “doubting Thomas” when it came to the immediate business outlook. In fact, this year’s visitor survey by the Laser management showed that 76% of exhibitors think the current state of photonics is “excellent to good,” with more than half expecting “further improvement” in the market. And attendance was by no means limited to Europeans or Americans; the Asian community was also there in force.

“In my opinion, the Munich show is the #1 tradeshow for our industry, and we certainly found attending it worthwhile,” said David Jones, director, sales and marketing, Cutting Edge Optronics (St. Louis, MO). “Many of our existing customers visited, particularly from Japan and China, and the overall outlook for future business looks promising, particularly in industrial manufacturing applications.”

These results were certainly consistent with the sentiments from the show floor, where attendees and exhibitors alike seemed remarkably upbeat about the show, the associated conferences, and about prospects for continued business growth in the coming year. Business was obviously brisk on the show floor, and the opportunities to meet existing business partners and high-caliber prospects at Laser led Karl-Heinz Baldau, a VP at Newport/Spectra-Physics (Irvine, CA) to state that the show is the world’s most important meeting place for the lasers and photonics sector.

One might argue that point, but Laser is certainly one of the largest industry events and it is unique in that it that brings the smallest scientific laser firms onto the same show floor as the largest industrial laser manufacturers like Rofin Sinar and Trumpf-which makes for a really interesting and multifaceted exhibit that covers just about everything from testing LEDs to cutting steel. In fact, the general consensus from the meeting is that the industrial market continues to be the strongest market for lasers worldwide.

“From JDS Uniphase’s perspective, the Munich show was a huge success,” said Ken Ibbs, marketing manager at JDSU (Santa Clara, CA). “Materials processing remains by far the largest application for lasers, and its importance seems to be growing. In addition, the European laser industry continues to evolve as a major force for innovation in technology and manufacturing, even for lower power laser systems.”

In the Production Engineering hall, where the focus was on materials processing applications, more than 190 exhibitors from all over the world featured lasers for primarily industrial applications. Of these, nearly 40 vendors were displaying marking systems-not a complete surprise, according to David Belforte, editor and publisher of Industrial Laser Solutions.

“This echoes the current segmentation of the market, where marking systems represent a little more than 50% of the market in terms of units and about 26% of the revenues,” he said.

Another interesting trend Belforte noticed at the exhibition was the presence of several Chinese laser companies.

“I wouldn’t have expected this based on the capabilities of the companies in China that are serving the market in China,” he said. “I would not have thought they were ready to sell into the Euro market, which can be a very tough market. But they said they were mostly there looking for partnerships, not really to begin selling into the Euro market.”

Business and product news

News from Laser was wide ranging, and much was obviously product related, but on the business front, Coherent (Santa Clara, CA) probably won the award for the biggest news by announcing that it has acquired excimer-laser-maker Tui Laser (Germering, Germany)-a move apparently intended to round out Coherent’s excimer product line.

The results of other mergers and acquisitions were also evident. The combined Newport/Spectra-Physics Corporation debuted this year, and a more-visible JDS Uniphase was the result of its recent acquisition of Lightwave Electronics. Kaleido Technology (Farum, Denmark) announced that it has been selected by Microvision (Bothell, WA) to supply free form aspheric mirrors for Microvision’s head-up display system. And GSI Group (Billerica, MA; formerly GSI Lumonics) took the opportunity to promote its new corporate identity (announced on June 6) by displaying a selection of its product brands-such as Lumonics Lasers, Spectron Lasers, and General Scanning-under coordinated logos.

Fiber lasers seemed to be on the tip of every tongue and the fiber laser booths were always busy-or so it seemed. Southampton Photonics (Southampton, England) introduced a pulsed fiber laser for marking applications with peak powers up to 15kW. nLight (Vancouver, WA) introduced a number of new products including a high-brightness 975-nm single-emiter diode laser rated to 5 W CW. Among the products introduced by Spectra-Physics were a very small all-solid-state 532-nm laser with outputs ranging from 10 to 150 mW and a Ti:sapphire laser with the widest tuning range currently available anywhere (700-1020 nm). What may be one of the most powerful small all-solid-state lasers was on show from Oxxius (Lannion, France). Its 473-nm device emits up to 50 mW from a package about the size of a matchbox.

Fiber lasers were also a hot topic in the Production Engineering hall, especially in a panel discussion involving proponents of both fiber lasers and disc lasers for industrial applications that was part of the plenary session of Lasers in Manufacturing 5, a technical conference held concurrently with Laser 2005. According to Belforte, two of the biggest product announcements at Laser 2005 were the 4-kW disc laser from Trumpf and the 4-kW fiber laser from IPG Photonics (Oxford, MA).

“The disc laser vs. fiber laser issue is still being hotly debated,” Belforte said. “But the bottom line is that the market will decide, as it always does. After 35 years, the industrial market still chooses mostly the Nd:YAG and CO2 lasers, and this market has had the opportunity to review a lot of laser technologies.”

-Stephen G. Anderson, Kathy Kincade

More in Home