With the 40th anniversary of the birth of the laser just around the corner, advances in laser technology continue at a furious pace. Depending on the laser type, laser hardware is shrinking in size, while power ratings and beam efficiencies are rising, and applications are expanding in areas as diverse as discrete-parts manufacturing and telecommunications. Nowhere will this incredible expansion be more apparent than the 14th Laser International Trade Fair and International Congress for Innovative and Applied Laser Technology and Optoelectronics, scheduled for June 14-18 at the new Munich Trade Fair Centre in Munich, Germany.
Launched in 1973, the trade fair has grown in size consistently over the last 25 years to become one of the largest exhibitions and conferences devoted to laser technology and optoelectronics. At the last event in 1997, there were some 725 exhibitors and 106 other company representatives from 38 countries, as well as 14,500 trade visitors from 67 countries. More than 50% of the exhibitors came from outside Germany, as did some 25% of visitors.
Targeting emerging applications
Fair organizers expect that Laser 99 will also log a large volume of international traffic. Application hotspots, however, may be slightly different from two years ago. Femtosecond lasers, for example, will probably receive more publicity. These lasers, which emit light pulses lasting a few femtoseconds, can rip out the electrons from the nucleus of an atom. They are opening new dimensions in scientific research, such as the capability to influence and study photochemical reactions.
Also expected to make a good stand at the show will be semiconductor lasers. Just starting to heat up interest among end users in 1997, they can now claim distinction as the fastest-growing laser technology for two reasons. Solid-state lasers can benefit from the laser diode`s capability as a highly efficient optical pump. And applications such as telecommunications, materials processing, compact-disk players, laser printers, and laser pointers benefit from direct use of a laser-diode beam.
More-traditional laser processes will also hold their own this year, including CO2 and Nd:YAG laser-based machining. To keep up with these and other interesting new laser developments over the last couple years, event organizers have had to divide Laser 99 into eight theme areas:
- Laser technology, including solid-state, gas, and diode lasers, as well as laser-system components, laser components, and laser-radiation protection equipment.
- Optics, a new area at the fair, which covers optical components and systems, as well as optomechanics and optics production technology
- Fiberoptic equipment, comprising the product groups of optical waveguides and components and other equipment related to optical signal transmission
- Optoelectronics components, as well as electro- and acousto-optics and display technology
- Optical sensors for geometric, dynamic, optical, and other uses
- Measurement and test technology, including laser-based equipment, optoelectronic analysis systems, industrial image processing, and holographic measurement and test technology
- Lasermed `99, highlighting medical-laser technology
- Production engineering, including materials-processing systems and peripherals, and laser-assisted product design and construction systems.
In line with the theme of production engineering, Laser 99 will include a special exhibition from the Institut f?r Werkzeugmaschinen und Betriebswissenschaften of the Technical University of Munich. Highlights will include advances in laser welding, microassembly, rapid prototyping and tooling, CAD and database-management software, and finite-element simulation.
In addition to providing updates on industrial applications, the collocated congress will discuss topics such as advances in optical imaging, therapeutic laser applications, biomedical optical spectroscopy, imaging and diagnostics, and environmental standoff sensing. Linked with the congress will be CLEO/Europe-EQEC focus meetings sponsored by the Optical Society of America, the European Physical Society, and IEEE, as well as Europto and WLT (Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Laser technik e.V.) meetings. Visitors will also have access to Europto short courses.
Market expansion continues
In light of recent events such as the "Asian Flu," some may wonder whether Laser 99 will be as successful as the event held in 1997. Event organizers are optimistic that it will be, based, in part, on the fact that the laser and optoelectronics markets-while they may have slowed some due to economic upheaval in parts of the world-remained fairly healthy.
According to the Laser Focus World Annual Market Review and Forecast (Jan. 1999, p. 80, and Feb. 1999, p. 52), worldwide commercial-laser revenues topped $3.22 billion in 1997 and were projected to exceed $3.875 billion in 1998. Furthermore, for 1999, the forecast is for an overall worldwide market of $4.6 billion, a year-to-year gain of roughly 20%.
For those interested in learning more about the status of the world market for lasers and optoelectronics, Laser Focus World will hold its 1999 Laser Marketplace seminar (Europe), Wednesday, June 16, at Munich Trade Fair Centre. In addition to providing a review of global markets, the seminar will cover topics such as diode-pumped solid-state-laser developments, direct-diode applications, and fiber lasers. Details on the seminar are available from Carole Root, tel.: (603) 891-9138; e-mail: car[email protected]; or on the Web: www.optoelectronics-world.com.
The current world market for laser systems, including associated equipment and machinery, hovered near DM 83.3 billion ($45.7 billion) in 1997, according to Optech Consulting (Bisingen, Germany). World sales for lasers alone reached
DM 4.5 billion ($2.47 billion), with 1998 figures expected to be 15%-20% higher-although aftershocks from the "Asian Flu" may drag the final tally down somewhat.
It is no surprise that the largest market is telecommunications. In 1997, laser supplies for the glass-fiber networks in digital telecom munications accounted for some
DM 1.5 billion ($823 million). Percentage growth forecasts for last year were in double digits.
Next highest global demand is in materials-processing lasers. This market reached DM 1.4 billion ($768.5 million) in 1997 and was expected to grow another 15% last year. About 45% of the lasers used in this market segment are CO2, followed by Nd:YAG lasers at 25%. Excimers, still the major player in the electronics industry, account for 22%.
Rounding out the top three markets for laser technology is the information technology and consumer electronics sector, at DM 650 million ($356.8 million) in 1997. Predictions here were for 20% growth for last year. Capturing almost 90% of this market segment are semiconductor lasers. While accounting for only 3% of the market in 1997, this laser category was expected to increase by more than 30% in market share last year. o