Photonics West bursts at the seams and spills over

March 1, 2001
Exhibit space for Photonics West 2001, held in January in San Jose, CA, was sold out for the second consecutive year, say organizers of what has become the largest US conference in the laser and optoelectronics industry.

Exhibit space for Photonics West 2001, held in January in San Jose, CA, was sold out for the second consecutive year, say organizers of what has become the largest US conference in the laser and optoelectronics industry. This year, however, says Bonnie Peterson, corporate services manager with the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE; Bellingham, WA), planners were surprised by the number of exhibitors for the conference on high-power lasers and their applications, integrated optoelectronic devices, and electronic imaging.

Attendance swelled to 15,362 for this year's show, far exceeding that of other industry conferences, and eclipsing last year's attendance of 12,116 (see Fig. 1). The number of attendees at short courses more than doubled over last year. Also part of the conference, the Biomedical Optics Symposium (BiOS) saw strong attendance the weekend before the photonics exhibits.

Last year, exhibitors exceeded available space at the San Jose Convention Center and took up positions in the foyer near the registration booths. This year, exhibit space for the show sold out two months earlier than last year, filling up the foyer and pushing 50 overflow registrants into a separate facility across the street. Attendees were directed to "follow the red carpet" outside to the extra exhibits at Parkside Hall.

"I feel like I'm missing the action over here," said Dan Greene, director of telecommunications marketing at IntelliSense (Wilmington, MA), a company "exiled" to the remote Parkside Hall. "This is what we get for registering at the last minute," said Greene, referring to the quieter noise level and less-crowded aisles. But exhibitors agree it was far better to have a booth across the street than to miss the chance to exhibit at Photonics West.

"Far and away, Photonics West is the photonics show of the year," said Leeward Bean, director of sales and marketing at Ocean Optics (Dunedin, FL). "For us, between BiOS on the weekend and Photonics West," he said, "we had triple the sales leads compared to last year."

A major trend has emerged to explain the growing popularity of the conference—the commercialization of lasers and optoelectronics. "I'm seeing lasers becoming more mainstream," said Michael Cook, Director of Marketing at Coherent Auburn (Auburn, CA; see Fig. 1). Organizers concur. "The success of the meeting was really a statement about the successful transition of photonics to commercial applications," agrees Scott Walker, director of corporate services for SPIE. "Of course, telecom was important on the floor, but people attending the exhibition were looking at thousands of different applications in a number of different industries."

Commercial appeal

Some explain the trend as a shift away from government R&D contracts. "Seven years ago," said Bean, "exhibitors here were primarily contract companies. But now, companies aren't getting as many defense contracts. Success depends on creating products with commercial appeal, which is happening as companies look to photonics to solve their problems."

The effect of this commercialization is a set of new challenges for the photonics, optoelectronics, and laser industries. Commercialization of components, for example, ramps up the demand, which challenges companies to streamline manufacturing. "A common refrain in telecom has been, 'We can't get the parts quickly enough. Orders far outpace demand,'" explained Lloyd LaComb, senior vice president and general manager of optical metrology at Veeco (Tucson, AZ). In response, the industry eagerly showcased its ability to address the problem. Veeco, for example, displayed metrology equipment and automated process control equipment designed for high-volume production.

The consensus from participants at the Laser Focus World Laser and Optoelectronics Marketplace Seminar hosted by Pennwell Corp. was that an economic slowdown is not necessarily bad news for the industry. In fact, analysts believe the global laser and optoelectronics market could be relatively unaffected by a recession. Richard Mack, vice president and general manager of analyst firm KMI (Newport, RI) agrees. "We really can't weigh what a recession would do to telecom, because we haven't had a recession since the Internet has been around. Evidence from '90/'91 does not show a significant setback in telecom. People still made the same amount of phone calls."

This year saw the largest attendance ever for the annual Laser and Optoelectronics Marketplace Seminar, which was followed by the annual ceremony and reception to recognize the winners of the Commercial Technology Achievement awards (see Fig. 2). The after-hours exhibitor reception Tuesday at South 1st Billiards, co-hosted by Penn-

Well and SPIE, was also remarkably well attended due to the "pool hall" venue, which was ideal for a mix of networking, mingling, and fun.

About the Author

Valerie Coffey-Rosich | Contributing Editor

Valerie Coffey-Rosich is a freelance science and technology writer and editor and a contributing editor for Laser Focus World; she previously served as an Associate Technical Editor (2000-2003) and a Senior Technical Editor (2007-2008) for Laser Focus World.

Valerie holds a BS in physics from the University of Nevada, Reno, and an MA in astronomy from Boston University. She specializes in editing and writing about optics, photonics, astronomy, and physics in academic, reference, and business-to-business publications. In addition to Laser Focus World, her work has appeared online and in print for clients such as the American Institute of Physics, American Heritage Dictionary, BioPhotonics, Encyclopedia Britannica, EuroPhotonics, the Optical Society of America, Photonics Focus, Photonics Spectra, Sky & Telescope, and many others. She is based in Palm Springs, California. 

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