Swimming upstream

Jan. 28, 2019
In a week from now, there will be a gathering of laser folks at the annual SPIE Photonics West conference in San Francisco.
Ron Head Shot Lia 2018 Best

In a week from now, there will be a gathering of laser folks at the annual SPIE Photonics West conference in San Francisco. Maybe it is just the time I spent living in Alaska, but … it reminds me of the annual salmon runs. A few times per year, the laser/photonics community gathers together at one of the major venues. Photonics West and other venues like the Munich laser conference coming up this June provide a great venue to socialize, talk, listen, and in general pollinate thoughts and interactions. Once a year, San Francisco (or Munich or …) probably has the highest concentration of laser geeks on the globe for the duration of the conference. As I have said in the past, though, these larger venues have become so big it is impossible to hit everything.

For the first time in well over 20 years, I am not teaching my laser micromachining course. My personal status within the industry has been through some changes and we will see how this affects future courses. In the past, I restricted myself to laser micromachining because that is what I was involved in at my 'day job'. Now, I have more time and interest in getting involved in other topics, like 3D manufacturing.

That being said, I am still very interested in the ultrashort-pulse (USP) laser space. Whatever may be happening with the economy, the following statements I think are true:

1. The laser industry in general has and will continue to outperform the machine tool industry in general.

2. Within the laser industry, USP lasers will have perhaps the highest growth potential over the next few years.

Back in 2013, I did my first survey on USP lasers at the Munich laser show and I followed it up two years later. I did not follow up in 2017 because I was overwhelmed at the sheer number of companies involved in the USP space for lasers, optics, controls, applications, etc. So, it is probably a good time to do another survey and therefore I will be trying to talk to all of the USP laser companies and get feedback. If you are reading this and want a survey form, please email me.

Speaking of the industry, the PennWell Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar will be held on Monday, February 4th at the San Francisco Marriott as usual. All indications are for a general slowdown in 2019 from 2018. There are lots of variables and this is the best venue to hear the latest. Stock prices, especially for a few of the major players, have fallen dramatically since last year, but order books seem to be full. In the meantime, we have all the uncertainty in the U.S. and UK governments (as I write this, the U.S. government has been shut down for over a month), major upheavals in various sectors of the world (Venezuela, for example), immigration crises around the globe (not just at the U.S./Mexican border), and looming trade wars, to name a few things that might influence economic development at least short-term. Foresight can only go so far with so many uncertainties.

Fortunately, my salmon analogy ends at the upstream swim—unlike the poor salmon, we all swim downstream again (well, most of us anyway), disperse into the wide world, and live life waiting for the chance to get together again.

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts concerning laser micromachining, the laser industry, comments on entrepreneurial endeavors, etc. AND … we are always looking for fresh, publishable material. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

About the Author

Ron Schaeffer

Ron Schaeffer, Ph.D., is a blogger and contributing editor, and a member of the Laser Focus World Editorial Advisory Board. He is an industry expert in the field of laser micromachining and was formerly Chief Executive Officer of PhotoMachining, Inc. He has been involved in laser manufacturing and materials processing for over 25 years, working in and starting small companies. He is an advisor and past member of the Board of Directors of the Laser Institute of America. He has a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Lehigh University and did graduate work at the University of Paris. His book, Fundamentals of Laser Micromachining, is available from CRC Press.

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