You’ve really got a secret?

March 1, 2006
ILS is all about sharing the news with the laser industry

ILS is all about sharing the news with the laser industry

This month ILS is sort of a combined issue; the lasers in automotive features and the annual ILS Buyers Guide. Consequently I have more than one view this month.

First up, lasers in automotive, one of the most visible markets for both high- and low-power industrial lasers and currently one of the most frustrating for editors like me. Digging out news stories about recent laser advances in North America has become a chore that loses its charm after rejection of publishing proposals by various car makers.

As an example, I am sitting on a story about a major, innovative application at a Big Three luxury car division. Is it just me or does this company have a responsibility to publicize this “worst kept secret in Detroit” to a global readership? Why, you corporate lackeys may ask. Because Detroit, meaning the Big Three, is taking a beating in the PR field as just about every international car maker brags about laser applications used in some part of their latest model. Goodness, even Brilliance Auto in China brags about using laser welded blanks. It’s not as though everyone in the industry is unaware of Big Three applications, it’s just that they prefer not to talk about them.

Case in Point #1; a Michigan stamper of Big Three auto frames and panels, using a massive five-axis flying optic laser system, prefers not to want publicity after almost a year of negotiating a feature for ILS.

Case in point #2; I was this close to an interview with a manager at a Big Three assembly plant who ostensibly was willing to tell me, and subsequently you, about an innovative welding application on a brand new body style. Weeks of vacillation, resubmission of questions, changes in available personnel, and just plain stalling finally caused me to scrap the idea.

These are just some examples why the cover of this issue features BMW, an enlightened car maker who has rarely hesitated to promote laser technology and their use of same. Yes, we did manage to get a feature from a Big Three company but it is not the most enthusiastic, laser-wise, that we have ever run. So, because this is being read by attendees at the 14th ALAW (this month in Ann Arbor, MI) let me just say, shape up Detroit and share some laser experiences and put to rest the questions about U.S. technology usage we hear at various international auto conferences.

And now to the Buyers Guide. ILS has for some time had one; starting with the 1986 issue of the Industrial Laser Annual Handbook, which was the first attempt to define the supplier chain for industrial lasers, systems, related products, and services. This guide has grown from 220 suppliers of these products and services to the 600 listed herein plus 230 job shops that have their own buyers guide in October.

There was an enthusiastic young lady, fresh out of college, who helped me hand sort that first buyer’s guide as one of her first jobs in publishing. She still carries on as the managing editor of this publication.

Looking through the 1986 guide I found that one-third of the companies are no longer in business or have been absorbed by another entity. Many of them might have made it in today’s laser friendly markets. I think back with fondness on these companies’ efforts to build a laser business, because I was one of them. Twenty years later a $325 million, unprofitable system business has grown twelve-fold to a $4.3 billion, profitable growing industry.

I wish some of those pioneering risk takers were here to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Click here to enlarge image

David A. Belforte
[email protected]

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