One of these days we have to get organized

Could it be I'm anal-retentive because I prefer things to be orderly? The other day, while identifying my expanding hosta collection with metal markers, a neighbor, passing the garden, paused, shook her head, and said, "It's just what I expected of you."

I am also a list maker, a practice I've commented on before. For example, the aforementioned hostas are carefully documented on CDs.

I also keep chronological files of papers, articles, news items, etc. describing industrial laser applications, dating back to 1967, although they have only been segmented by application from 1975 onward. I published an Industrial Laser Bibliography that was, until the mid 1980s, the only comprehensive listing of publications on this subject, categorized by specific topics: cutting, welding, drilling, heat treating, cladding, alloying, melting, machining, and miscellaneous. I still maintain chronological index cards segmented this way, so that I can find a relative document when needed.

Which leads me to this month's subject. I was filing some magazine articles the other day when I noticed that the hanging folder labeled "cutting" was thinner than the previous ten years. My curiosity was piqued. Has there been a fall off in the number of publications about laser cutting? Perhaps 2003 is just an aberration.

But in another file drawer for laser welding I find that the 2003 folder is considerably thinner than previous years. Interestingly the last ten years of files on welding, all that I keep in my office, look like a bell curve, with the thickest files in the years 1997–2000, and the thinner files on each end. But the cutting files for the previous nine years are about the same thickness. Is there a message here? Has cutting technology plateaued, while welding peaked in the boom years?

Now, really getting into the anal-retentive thing, I went back over this magazine's editorial for the last ten years and found that except for one year (2002) we have been rather consistent in the number of cutting articles published annually, following the file trend. And interestingly welding articles peaked in the same time period as the files.

So what, you say? Nothing special, just my fascination with lists I guess. But hold on here! On the Industrial Laser Solutions Web page we asked a Quick Vote question concerning proposed editorial subjects for 2004. And guess what, cutting and welding were about equal.

Admittedly a small sample but one that may be prescient. Could it be we have learned just about all the technology we need to know about cutting, and that welding is such a part-specific application that it's difficult to write an interesting feature on metal joining? Fortunately for this magazine, the opposite is the case. Check out the high-power diode laser-welding feature in this issue. I'd say we have yet to reach saturation on any laser application editorial.

At the recent, very successful, ICALEO in Jacksonville, I took advantage of an excellent technical digest and well-chaired sessions that allowed me to shift from one meeting room to another, sampling presentations, which I could follow up quickly because the sponsoring LIA provides attendees with a CD containing all the papers accepted for the conference.

So I made another list and found that welding papers outnumbered cutting technology papers by 5:1. And these, on the whole, were advanced development reports that bode well for growth opportunities in industrial laser welding applications. Welding, historically, represents about 15 percent of laser applications, while metal cutting averages about 25 percent. For welding to change the ratio, a killer application is needed. It might have been laser spot welding of auto bodies, now in doubt. Perhaps a better one was buried in the ICALEO proceedings. Stay tuned. We have already signed up authors at this event.

David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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