Industrial lasers on exhibit at Photonics West

Photonics West, the annual SPIE-sponsored San Jose, California conference/tradeshow, closed on an upbeat note last week. Attendance figures (almost 18,000) for this decidedly photonics-oriented show topped last year's record by a few hundred, a feat in an otherwise gloomy economic environment. Veteran show goers speculated before the opening that this year's event would be a significant one as it is the first big, international laser tradeshow and any exhibitor/attendee drop-off could set the tone for a slower year for tradeshows. Click here to view video from the show.

On opening day the show floors quickly filled up with walk-in traffic and as the morning technical sessions broke for refreshments the aisles were packed with lookers and, it turns out, buyers. At the end of the day exhibitors catering to the scientific and R&D markets were very upbeat as they met with enthusiastic buyers with budgets. Because there was no fall-off in exhibits this meant that attendees were hard pressed to see the whole show in three days and that exhibitors collected numerous valuable leads.

At the sponsor's exhibitor party the first night the talk was all positive and the most common phrase heard was "What recession." Companies exhibiting products for the industrial laser materials processing markets were equally pleased with visitors but, as is usually the case at this show, buyers were in the minority. Aside from the major product suppliers we found a number of smaller companies that had identified some niche market customer interest, and in several cases we heard of success with specialty system integrators who are serving industrial markets that are still prospering in the tough manufacturing environment.

Fiber lasers were ubiquitous on the show floor and it seems that each year the number of suppliers increases by a significant percentage. Also making a stronger appearance were direct diodes lasers at various power levels. Notable among these were those that offer better beam quality and high output repetition rates offering improved processing characteristics for applications in growing market sectors, once the economy turns. Also of note were the ultra-fast pulse lasers, both conventional and fiber, which are evolving rapidly into an industrial product.

Exhibits featuring lasers for the medical device industry and those focusing on the solar market were spread throughout the three exhibition areas. Just about every suppler we visited is involved in or considering these markets leading one to speculate that buyers in these markets are going to have many choices to sort out as they spend their budgets this year.

Although show attendance dropped off on the last day the overall euphoria of finding buyers in the marketplace caused most exhibitors to leave San Jose in an upbeat mood. Next year Photonics West moves to San Francisco where all exhibits will be co-located and because of added space many new ones will likely be present. After 10 plus years in San Jose many exhibitors favor a venue change especially to one of the most likeable cities in America.

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