Making it with lasers

Among the many negative numbers of last month’s first-quarter financial results from some of the photonics market leaders were glimmers of a slightly brighter outlook for the coming months.

Th Steveandersonsm

Among the many negative numbers of last month’s first-quarter financial results from some of the photonics market leaders were glimmers of a slightly brighter outlook for the coming months. While stressing that visibility is still limited, Rofin-Sinar’s CEO, Günther Braun, in what he called a positive development, reported a “rebound of orders” in March. And Coherent’s president and CEO John Ambroseo, while also noting the challenging market conditions, said, “... customers are re-engaging in the sales process for new and existing applications.” The sales process is, of course, central to industry trade events so these signs are an encouraging undercurrent as we gear up for Laser, World of Photonics in Munich, Germany, this month.

In Europe, photonics is well on the way to becoming a distinct and strategically important industrial sector with its own aims and objectives. According to the European Photonics Industry Association (EPIC; Paris, France) Europe leads the world in the production of photovoltaics, lasers for manufacturing, and lighting. EPIC’s assessment of the prospects for these industry sectors in light of the current economic downturn is the subject of this year’s European Report.

Globally, sales of lasers for manufacturing reached $2.1 billion in 2008 and are expected to decline this year. But the segment is complex and despite weak overall sales, research into working with new lasers and development of novel techniques continues. Laser additive manufacturing, for instance, offers an environmentally friendly and relatively economical approach to certain types of manufacturing. Because of its benefits, the technique is exciting interest from commercial manufacturers. Elsewhere, the relative lack of output power has hampered acceptance of direct-diode lasers in some materials-processing applications. In one recent development the combination of specially designed diode-laser modules has resulted in an industrial diode-laser system capable of producing up to 4 kW. And while the world’s semiconductor manufacturing industry drags through its own extended downturn, research continues into the sources required for future reductions in chip size. Extreme-UV lithography is one option that’s being investigated to push Moore’s Law forward.

Th Steveandersonsm
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Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief
stevega@pennwell.com

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