And you do this for fun?

Working out the numbers for the annual market report is a year-long exercise

The cover of this issue contains a subtle image that is detailed in the Annual Economic Review and Forecast; a slight shift in market shares favors the Asian nations that now make up almost 37 percent of all industrial laser installations. Where, you may ask, do these numbers come from; not a fortune cookie, I can assure you. Oh, I wish it was that simple.

I start the year by making a folder called Industrial Market Trends, which I add to over the months before the economic review process begins in earnest. Other files are opened as needed to collect information and data from available sources such as company annual reports, market analysts’ reports, Web searches, and company news releases.

Then I have a miscellaneous file that contains scraps of paper carrying my sometimes indecipherable scrawled notes taken at industry events, such as the trade shows and conferences. And finally I have a file that contains the responses to the Laser Focus World annual survey, which is unfortunately getting thinner each year as companies decline to share market predictions. The results, as shown by the photo at the left, are piles of files that I assiduously read to form the thrust of my annual report.

It is an interesting but onerous task. Interesting because, like pieces of a puzzle, the bits of information yield an interpreted market picture; onerous because the final compilation is conducted under tight editorial deadlines. One factor, company quarterly and final reports issued in early November can sometimes dramatically alter my thinking on a specific market sector. For example, I received reports from industry leaders TRUMPF, Rofin Sinar, and Coherent literally days before my final numbers were completed. In the case of the latter I waited until a determination was made by the German government opposition to Coherent’s acquisition of Excel, which involved five Excel companies: Synrad, Baublys Control Laser, Quantronix, Cambridge Technology, and Continuum. This action allowed information to flow more freely from the participants.

It helps that many years of doing this have led to an intuitive feeling for the markets, so that subtleties that appear in an otherwise innocuous document or report become determining factors, to my eyes. For example, in a Web report on automotive activity in China, I find a brief comment on expanding tailored blank welding capacity at a major supplier’s plant. This leads to a conversation at a trade show with a blanking system supplier, which yields an addition to the sales data on laser welding systems.

As I write this it occurs to me that readers might interpret this as a call for applause for my industriousness. Actually it is more in response to comments I receive about how the numbers are generated, especially when some conflict appears with other published reports.

Case-in-point; a recent e-mail message questioned why my published numbers for the total installed base of laser based sheet metal cutting systems differed considerably from that mentioned in a telephone conference between a leading publicly owned laser product manufacturer and security analysts. My response, not knowing where the manufacturer’s numbers came from, was to explain how mine were derived.

So, when you turn to page 8 to read my take on the industrial laser market, you will better understand that it is a compilation of information bits, tempered by some wisdom accumulated over 25 years of tracking this vibrant and constantly growing market.

David A. Belforte

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