First impressions

Shanghai, China-Susan Sprentall, community relations manager for the SME- Industrial Laser Community, made her first trip to China for the recent Laser 365 World Expo. ILS thought it would be interesting to present a view of a third-world country through her first timer’s eyes.-DAB

Laser 365 World Expo (Shanghai) is actually a regional machine tool show, which is grandiosely advertised as the “world’s largest laser application show.” A welcome from a live band while registering was a nicety offset by the registration process, which was just to put a business card in a basket and drape a visitor badge around the neck. No directory of exhibits was offered, and heavily armed security at the door refused to allow their picture to be taken.

Even though we arranged for an interpreter it was not necessary as most exhibitors had an English-speaking representative in their booths. In the laser section of the show we found; Farley LaserLab, II-VI, Laser Focus World, Unity Prima, Chengdu Shield Optic-Material, IDEA Laser Co, GY Ceramic, and Ante Laser. Although the laser show was small, it was interesting. Only three exhibits had working lasers.

After the show we visited factories in the Shanghai area using lasers that manufacture; consumer products, fabricated metal, die bore cutting, textile goods, and pharmaceutical goods. Most lasers were under utilized and lacking safety type enclosures, and no one we saw wore safety glasses. Facilities ranged from old three- or four-story buildings lacking air conditioning or ventilation systems to brand new structures with all the amenities.

Energy consumption is a major consideration everywhere, with most companies having main switches that are sure to cut all power at the end of the work shift with separate units for air conditioning. Our guide advised that each company might work around the clock to turn an order around in a short time.

In each facility the end product was proudly displayed and we could observe the quality as well as the customer names. Companies tout their flexibility, low cost, and quality. Many of the owners and/or managers were eager to learn more and asked many questions on how they might improve their process.

Many employees manually load and unload staging products for the next process and manual labor is used for most secondary processes. They take pride in their work and have a drive to get things done.

Driving through Shanghai is exciting because the city is very metropolitan and modern with skyscrapers and traffic problems similar to New York or Chicago. Major renovations and new construction is everywhere, but many of the high-rise buildings are empty and the new apartment buildings are unoccupied. We were told that it is very expensive to live in the city.

In tourist areas you find shopping for traditional Chinese goods at prices to be determined by bargaining. We noted many “Rolex” and “Gucci” products for sale. There is high-end shopping almost like Michigan Avenue in Chicago with all the major brands represented and Starbucks everywhere.

Mixed with this western influence one can still see traditional Chinese methods of farming and transportation. Driving from Shanghai to the airport, the contrast of modern construction cranes working on the downtown skyscrapers and the use of manual labor and hand tools trimming the beautiful gardens that line the roads in-between reminded me of driving into Disney World. Our guide made the statement, “Most Chinese want to visit the U.S. because we hear it is like living in heaven.”

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