Thinking small may payoff big

Sept. 1, 2002
I have absolutely no doubt that the next spurt in industrial laser activity will come from microprocessing

I recall being told, as a youth, that perspective can play tricks on the mind. Then the example had to do with the inability to judge the height of a jump from a platform to the ground because of viewing the distance from eye level rather than foot level. What looked like a ten-foot leap was, in reality only four feet. Still the mind saw it as being six feet higher and therefore more of a danger.

Living and working in a macro-scale world conditions some to lose perspective on things occurring on a smaller scale. My son both works and plays with trains. He runs a full-size freight line and as a hobby builds and operates scale model layouts. He easily thinks on two levels, macro (the full-size diesels) and micro (the HO scale miniatures). I don't think his perspective suffers from switching back and forth. At least I haven't heard about his company's locomotives experiencing frequent derailing similar to those I see when he exhibits his model trains.

This thought process arose the other day after I received a copy of a magazine, new to me, called Small Times, which is positioning itself to ride the nanotechnology boom. The tag line over its masthead reads, big news in small tech. Now there's a niche market. I wonder, by inference does this imply the market too is small? Reading the latest issue I gather quite the opposite is true because the managing editor reports the worldwide government spending for nanotechnology last year was about $2 billion.

In laser technology micro-scale is a hot subject at conferences focusing on potential uses in nanotechnology. I sit in on some of the presentations, looking for hints on where the industrial laser community will benefit in terms of increased funding for R&D and eventually from revenues from laser and systems sales. I have absolutely no doubt that the next spurt in industrial laser activity will come from the area ILS calls microprocessing, a catchall name that includes nanotechnology as a key element.

However, I am still trying to rescale my brain to thinking microns rather than millimeters. ILS routinely publishes articles on microprocessing, which we have problems illustrating because of the scale of the applications. Contributors to ILS submit what to their eyes are great photos, but to ours are hardly cover material. However as this technology sector expands we will continue to seek out glamour shots that may make our cover.

In that same vein, here is a follow on to the August cover. The photo of Kenny Lofton was chosen because it showed a laser-marked bat used by a noted major league player, and also it was available without paying an exorbitant fee to an endorsee. But wouldn't you know, the week before the cover appears, Mr. Lofton was traded by the Chicago White Sox to the San Francisco Giants—for his batting prowess, not his laser-engraved bats.

It's getting to the point where ILS is like Sports Illustrated, appear in the magazine and something happens to you. In SI, a cover photo can be a jinx. With ILS it's a good-luck charm. After appearing in an ILS Update, NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace has had several high finishes. And at the prestigious Brickyard 400 last month, Bill Elliott took the checkered flag for Evernham Motor Sports, the user of a laser scanner to improve body designs we described on our Web site (

So look for Kenny Loften to have a hot September wielding his laser-engraved bats for the Giants. And stay tuned for other non-laser successes that occur to those mentioned in these pages or on the ILS Web site.

Click here to enlarge image

David A. Belforte
[email protected]


Sharp-eyed readers have gleefully tweaked my nose for two geographical errors in the August issue of ILS. I may have a reputation as an industrial laser "expert" but I guess I flunk when it comes to map reading.

Yes, I know that Barcelona is located on the Northeast, not the Northwest coast of Spain. And I have been in Valparaiso, Indiana so I should know that when you visit the Hoosier Bat Company you are east not west of Chicago.

One query asked if I was just testing the geographical prowess of ILS readers. The simple answer is no. It's just that, sometimes, when I type East, West comes out. —DAB

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