"Were you born in a barn?" my mother used to ask on those frequent occasions when I left a door open. "Why of course not," was my reply, although I admit closing the door was a nuisance. It would only have to be opened again when I saw the next opportunity to head outside. When the time came to decide on a cover image for this first issue of a new year, we chose a door open wide to a bright and clear outdoors to represent the optimism that characterizes much of the laser industry.
In Senior Editor Steve Anderson's Annual Review and Forecast of the Laser Industry (see p. 50), he predicts robust growth in many markets in 1996. His conclusions are based on numerous tabulations, interpolations, and interviews with industry leaders, and they come on the heels of 1995, which saw many companies reporting their best-ever performance, both in terms of record orders and even profitability.
When I asked Steve what factors were responsible for such impressive numbers he had no easy answers. First, he cited the diversity of the maturing laser market—not every laser type is enjoying robust growth, but new applications are boosting otherwise established technologies. At the same time, however, technologies that have been long touted—diode-pumped solid-state lasers, for example—are making a real impact, and the numbers Steve tallied reflect those gains.
More companies are developing truly global business strategies, and those companies successfully competing internationally saw increases in revenues as a result. In addition, many manufacturers have been able to steer their business away from the dwindling military dollars and concentrate on viable commercial opportunities. Finally, Wall Street seems to be finally believing in the laser industry, as the stock prices of many companies are at all-time, never-before-seen levels. It seems that the opportunities are there for those companies willing to take the plunge.
Consumer applications of lasers are also growing, albeit primarily with diode-laser-based devices. While scanning the endless holiday catalogs, I found pocket levelers, pointers, and distance-measuring gadgets galore. I didn't find many lasers to use on the farm, but then I remembered that Steve said barcode scanners were turning up everywhere. On my neighbor's dairy farm, I can imagine lasers counting all the cows as they seize the opportunity to head out the barn door someone left open.