Summer thoughts on various conferences

I have attended a number of conferences over the last few weeks and in general there was little of great significance to report at any individual one, but it seems appropriate that a general review be made.

Two weeks ago, CLEO 2016 (the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics) was held in San Jose, CA. As with last year, the show hours were extended into the evening, but my impression was that after 3 p.m., it was basically a vendor fest and any potential customers still around were more interested in beer than discussing lasers (over beer). This conference remains primarily a scientific laser conference and exhibition—and for those in the academic community, it is still probably the premier US scientific laser conference.

However, despite trying, there is not a lot of momentum in the effort to attract industrial laser users. If the conference were held elsewhere, the attendance would probably be even less—fortunately, many attendees have other business in the Bay Area. Only a few years ago, CLEO was held every other year in Baltimore, but those days are past. Interestingly, another conference—the SPIE Defense and Commercial Sensing conference—has also changed venues to CA. I am told this is because over 60% of attendees come from CA and the hopes are that attendance will rise.


At CLEO, Dr. Michael Mielke chaired a session on ultrafast lasers that actually drew a nice crowd. The most interesting thing that I took from this week is that there is significant price erosion in the femtosecond world, as major manufacturers are starting to compete more on price and specifications than on innovations. Therefore, it seems that ultrafast technology is maturing—but more hopefully, it seems the applications development is still on the upward curve. Don't be surprised in the very near future to see 8W of fundamental output below 500fs pulse length for less than $100,000!

During the same week, the Design to Part show was held in Santa Clara, CA. My impression is that this regional job-shop show was better attended than CLEO, at least for industrial users. These shows are held in various locations throughout the year and are definitely worth at least walking.

Last week, I attended the MDM conference in New York City. This conference, once the second-most vital show in the medical device industry, has reduced to mostly a regional show. For instance, there are not nearly as many foreign visitors as there once were because there are other similar venues overseas.  

There are not even as many US visitors because again, there are other MDM venues around the country and, as nice as it is in NYC, it is also very expensive to be there. This year, there was no bus service to hotels because they just finished a new subway station near the convention center (hmm…maybe they should have done this when they built the Javitz center in the first place?). However, it is not real straightforward getting from one place to the next, especially if you don't live in or regularly go to NYC. There were two laser technology aisles—one of them had no laser companies, and the other a couple of laser companies surrounded by "other" companies. My best recommendation for this show is that it is still a great venue to see a lot of people in a small space, but this has to be balanced by the expense of doing so.

Outside my hotel on 47th and Broadway, the show Hamilton was playing. Scalpers were asking $3000-6000 PER TICKET, and there was a line around the block waiting! I think I am in the wrong business. One thing that is cool about NYC is that the chance of running into a celebrity is probably higher than anywhere else. My long-lost "cousin," Paul Shaffer (Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers, David Letterman's musical sidekick on The Late Show), came into a restaurant where I was enjoying a steak and sat down next to us, not realizing that he sat next to the only other Schaeffer in the place (spelling notwithstanding). We discussed the joy of being born into the clan.  

I am back in CA in July for another conference, Semicon West/InterSolar. This is another show that used to be much more active for the industrial laser community, but the number of actual laser and laser tool vendors displaying at the show is smaller than in the past. I will be writing a review on this conference later.

For now, the above conferences are classified into the same category for me—good conference to go to in order to see a lot of people and have some focused meetings, but the cost to actually exhibit there is probably more than the expected benefits for a lot of our community.

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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