Follow-up to ICALEO 2015

The Laser Institute of America (LIA)’s ICALEO conference in Atlanta last week drew over 400 people from over 30 countries. As usual, attendees were heavily skewed toward non-US citizens, with China in particular sending a strong delegation. The heavy foreign attendance is great on the one hand. This conference has become the worldwide go-to event for the principal movers and shakers in the laser industry. On the other hand, it is a bit sad that there are not more US attendees, and that especially applies to students. Maybe it is an issue of funding? It does cost some money to attend the event—for travel expenses and for missed time on the job—but even in venues where there are local universities involved in lasers, there does not seem to be any increase in student participation. Ways are being discussed at LIA to address this, including discounted or free enticements for students. Regardless of the success of this venture, it is clear that the LIA is actually, official name notwithstanding, the Laser Institute of the World.


Once again at ICALEO, processing of carbon fiber-reinforced polymers (CFRPs) and glass were hot topics in the Microprocessing conference. One paper in particular presented by Spectra-Physics in Germany showed high-speed cutting of linear and irregularly shaped glass using a reasonably low-power femtosecond laser (SP Spirit). In addition to the two application areas above, a lot of time in the Microprocessing conference was spent on applications of ultrafast lasers, both picosecond and femtosecond. It is pretty amazing at all the new work being done with these cool laser sources.  

The Business Forum started with ILS editor-in-chief Dave Belforte talking about the worldwide status of the laser industry. The bottom line is that things are not bad, but there are some major concerns, including the situation at Volkswagen (and possibly other auto makers) and also the economy in China, which could—and possibly will—have adverse effects on the worldwide economies during 2016. Two areas that appear to be well poised for growth are fiber lasers, which continue to generate strong sales, and ultrafast lasers. Other speakers gave interesting perspectives into the founding, working, operating, and (in a few cases) the selling of a small business. For a conference that is primarily "academic," this Business Forum is a very nice compliment, as there are many small business owners/entrepreneurs and future small business owners/entrepreneurs in attendance.     

Finally, I have a perhaps-amusing and certainly humanizing anecdote to relate.  The Keynote Speaker at the Opening Plenary Session was Prof. Ellen Townes-Anderson, one of four daughters of laser pioneer and Nobel Prize Winner Professor Charles Townes, who presented her research involving the use of laser tweezers. I should also point out that her uncle was Professor Arthur Schawlow, another laser pioneer and Nobel Prize recipient (the LIA Schawlow Award is named after him). I had the chance to talk to her and the other (all female!) Plenary Speakers at lunch, and it was quite humanizing to hear her refer to these famous guys (without whom I may not even have a job!) as Dad and Uncle Art.

Next year, the event will be back in San Diego. Who does not want to go there? We all hope to see YOU there! I am off next week to MDM in Minneapolis and the following week to Fabtech in Chicago with Dave Belforte. If you are at any of these venues, let’s chat.

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts concerning laser micromachining, the laser industry, comments on entrepreneurial endeavors, etc. AND … we are always looking for fresh, publishable material. Please feel free to contact me at rschaeffer@photomachining.com.



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