http://localhost:4503/content/ils/en/blogs/dabbling.html2016-08-19T18:02:56.612ZDABbling Adobe Experience ManagerLet's grow LMEnoemail@noemail.orgDavid Belforte<p>Could a &quot;mini-Munich&quot; be held in the US?</p> <div class="MsoNormal"><br> </div> <div class="MsoNormal">For several years, following the expansion of industrial laser system exhibits at the Munich laser show, Laser World of Photonics, exhibitors and visitors from the US began to ask if a &quot;mini Munich&quot; could be held in their own country. Several European organizations expressed interest in the idea, and some aligned with US organizations to test the waters for such a venture. <i>ILS</i> was a participant in some of these activities.</div> <div class="MsoNormal"><br> </div> <div class="MsoNormal">The focus of these activities has been the question: could a free-standing laser trade show, perhaps supported by a technical conference, draw sufficient numbers of exhibitors and attendees generate the revenues needed to cover the expense of producing such a venture? Munich's <a adhocenable="false" href="">Laser&nbsp;World of Photonics</a> is a massive effort with technical organizations coordinating with Messe Munich to make this biennial event a destination. Housed within the Messe Munich halls are exhibits that cover all aspects of laser technology, not just industrial material processing. At Munich, two Production halls provide space for many dozens of exhibitors showing their products and these halls are a beehive of activity for the four days of the show. At Munich, over 20,000 attendees fill the hall aisles. Walk-ins at most German trade shows are common so bustling attendance is the norm. Could that be duplicated in the US?</div> <div class="MsoNormal"><br> </div> <div class="MsoNormal">Here in the US, two major international laser trade shows, Photonics West and CLEO, draw hundreds of exhibitors in support of large technical conferences. Neither of these events are strictly an industrial laser show. <a href="" target="_blank">Fabtech</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">IMTS</a> are trade shows for industrial products and each has an industrial laser content, but not at the level of a Munich.</div> <div class="MsoNormal"><br> </div> <div class="MsoNormal">Stepping into this breech two years ago was the Laser Institute of America, which put together an event called, rather curiously, <a href="" target="_blank">Lasers for Manufacturing Event</a> (LME). Organized almost overnight in 2011 and situated in a convention center in Schaumburg, IL, LME got off to a modest start with technical sessions supported by an exhibition of several dozen <a href="" target="_blank">industrial laser suppliers</a>. Encouraged by this, the LIA moved forward to produce the second LME last year, along the same lines as the first, with the intent to size-up the exhibitor level to attract a larger walk-in attendance. This effort produced additional exhibitors, and the show attendance experienced a modest increase.</div> <div class="MsoNormal"><br> </div> <div class="MsoNormal">Thus, the <a href="" target="_blank">Laser Institute of America (LIA)</a>&nbsp;&nbsp;has cranked-up its effort to make this year’s LME (September 11 to 12) a major destination for those in North America interested in industrial laser material processing. Here’s the rub, however. Unless new exhibitors support the show to make it a &quot;mini Munich&quot; it will not attract the attendance numbers needed to keep the event growing. Simply, you have to invest to make this show a &quot;must see&quot;.</div> <div class="MsoNormal"><br> </div> <div class="MsoNormal">To all those who asked for an industrial-laser-only event, here it is. Support it. To those who are reticent to exhibit at the same venue as their competitors, I say, wake up, that's what makes Munich so attractive, and you like that. Trade shows like Fabtech and IMTS have pavilions where competitors exhibit shoulder to shoulder, amiably and profitably.</div> <div class="MsoNormal"><br> </div> <div class="MsoNormal">Here's a clarion call to all industrial laser systems suppliers in North America: if you want a &quot;mini Munich,&quot; join with your peers and make LME that event.</div>, at manufacturing lately?noemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteLately, the media has been writing more than usual about U.S. manufacturing. It seems the word is out that manufacturing is:&nbsp; A &ndash; on Washington&rsquo;s hot list, B &ndash; poised to lead the country out of the doldrums, C &ndash; reaping the benefits of lean practices, D &ndash; benefiting from productivity leadership, E &ndash; a good place to work, and F &ndash; all of the above.<br /><br />All of a sudden, manufacturing engineers are in the spotlight, and universities are touting curriculum changes that are attracting new students to what was once a &ldquo;dirt-under-the-fingernails&rdquo; type of occupation. Recognition of the need for these engineers has occurred in government, academia, and industry organizations; they are a little late, one could argue, but at least there is awareness at all levels, a necessary and positive action that gets media attention.<br /><br />Many decades ago, a group from the laser industry was invited by the U.S. Department of Commerce to present state-of-the -technology and to suggest ways in which that department could assist in growing what was then a nascent industry. This was long before the Fraunhofer model of government/academic/industry cooperative projects was even conceived. This laser industry group did not appear with hands out for federal funding; they simply thought that government recognition of this industry at the highest level might be the catalyst for faster growth. No funds were sought, only the suggestion that a statement by the president that this technology was important to the U.S. and that all government departments should cooperate to the extent allowed to smooth the path for this industry to grow.<br /><br />The statement didn&rsquo;t happen. It seems that the party in power was more influenced by corporate loathing for government involvement (with the attendant bureaucratic regimens), than to look to Washington for assistance. Several decades later, the current president did pretty much what the na&iuml;ve laser group had proposed. Time will tell if they had the right idea.<br /><br />In the meantime, manufacturing is on a roll in the U.S., and industrial lasers are riding with it. <br /><br /><div class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;"><o:p><span style="font-family: Calibri;">&nbsp;</span></o:p></div>, laser market meets forecastnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteAs this is being written, I am waiting out the end of a particularly nasty, late winter northeaster that has dumped a foot of heavy, wet snow on the region. It's sort of Mother Nature's last slap at us before the start of Spring next week. I won't bore you with details, but the Winter of 2012/2013 will be close to the top in snowfall records.<br /><br />Speaking of records, the last of the 4QCY12 reports are in, and reviewing the results for industrial laser industry leaders, such as <a href="" target="_blank">Coherent</a>, IPG Photonics and Rofin, I do not see any compelling reason to make a significant change in the<a href=";mode2" target="_blank"> <em>ILS</em> 2012 Annual Report</a> already published&nbsp;and delivered at the recent <a href="" target="_blank">Marketplace for Lasers &amp; Photonics seminar</a>&nbsp;in San Francisco. I'll possibly tweak the detail numbers, such as those for lasers used for specific applications, but the changes will be minimal and will not upset the trend lines.<br /><br />The early assessments for the global manufacturing economy are rolling in and have not changed from those I used to make the<em> ILS</em> 2013 forecast. The mix of good/bad news is about what analysts expected, and I anticipate that my numbers might inch up a bit, but remain in the mid-single digit area. I'll have a better idea come my mid-year Market Report, which again this year will be in the form of an <em>ILS</em> Webcast scheduled for, West features ultra-fast and fiber lasersnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteI&rsquo;ve finally recovered from a rousing Photonics West (<a href="" target="_blank">with a record attendance of more than 20,700</a> visitors) that, as usual for this early-in-the-year tradeshow, was optimistic and upbeat. Although their ranks are growing, industrial laser exhibitors at PW are still in the minority. For me, that&rsquo;s great because I can cover this segment without leaving the show feeling like I had missed something important. Having said that, I will confess that I spent relatively little time in the North Hall compared to the South Hall where most of the industrial laser exhibitors were. At PW, there are two main halls containing over 1235 exhibitors, which were jam-packed with exhibits, many on table-tops only, giving the impression of a near-East bazaar. As a consequence, I may have missed some international companies that had products related to industrial lasers. Fortuitously, I had colleagues at the show and they will tip me off to any hidden gems I may have missed.<br /><br />Centered in the South Hall was a powerhouse display of advanced industrial laser technology at the exhibits of IPG, Coherent, Trumpf, Jenoptik, and Newport. Setting aside the lure of <a href="" target="_blank">fiber lasers</a>, it was gratifying to see large and seemingly enthusiastic exhibit visitors checking out new <a href="" target="_blank">ultra-fast pulse lasers</a> that are being introduced into the market for industrial laser material processing. Many of these have appeared on the <i>ILS</i> Webpage and in the monthly Product Watch e-Newsletters.<br /><br />Referring back to my opening paragraph, I use PW exhibit visits to the industrial laser product suppliers as a touchstone for what business prospects may look like in the first half of 2013. My overall impression reinforces what I presented in my <a href=";mode2" target="_blank">Annual Market Review</a>: very modest growth in the first half, followed by the start of a pickup in the 3Q and an active 4Q that will take suppliers into 2014 with a healthy backlog.<br /><br />At the show, I asked company management if they were comfortable with a slower growth year. Their answer was that, having survived the Great Recession by leaning the companies down and investing in new products - which led the industry out of the slump and enabled them to roar back to pre-recession revenue and profit levels one year earlier than predicted - they intend to hold staffing and major investment levels. Company management essentially believed they were capable of meeting market demand in 2013 before they staff up for 2014. There are exceptions, such as IPG Photonics riding a boom in fiber laser sales, but for the most part, it&rsquo;s a wait-and-see attitude for, Additive Manufacturing takes center stagenoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteWell, the Super Bowl is set, and fans in New England and the Southeast are bemoaning a dropped pass here and a missed tackle there, as the Brothers Bowl promises an extra reason to watch San Francisco take on Baltimore in New Orleans. I&rsquo;ll confess to being a 49ers fan since I was a lad, recalling grainy film on black and white television of YA Title, then a 49er, valiantly leading his team through the mud of Kezar Stadium. There was something exotic about the 49ers, playing on the West Coast that attracted an East Coast fan more attuned to Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns, another early favorite. A few years later, I had the occasion to visit Kezar, on another rainy day, and I was so deflated by the dowdy, gray stadium that looked so like the old B &amp; W images. <br /><br />Now there&rsquo;s a new era, and the 49ers are about to leave windy old Candlestick Park for new digs abuilding in Santa Clara, just down the 101. They are being led by one of a new generation of quarterbacks, one of at least three "option" quarterbacks who are revolutionizing the old NFL passing game. They are a feisty group: one looking like a lean tattooed hippy, another like a short fireplug, and the third resembling a dread-locked Alabama running back. The game they play is exciting and refreshing. In a league that is known for copycatting, it won't be long before this style is the norm.<br /><br />All this brings to mind a more quiet revolution in laser materials processing technology and tangentially in <a href="" target="_blank">lean manufacturing</a>&nbsp; around the world. Most metal manufacturing operations are subtractive with chunks of metal being machined down to final shape. Large amounts of scrap metal result, creating a new term "scrap management." Years ago I worked on a process that used a laser beam to cut the ribbons of metal resulting from turning operations into short pieces that could be blown into barrels for later recycling. These densely packed barrels freed up unproductive floor space in the machine shop and greatly reduced scrap management. However, it was judged too expensive because of the investment and operating cost of the lasers then used.<br /><br />At about the same time, I was involved in a <a href="" target="_blank">government-sponsored program</a> to use the energy - in a focused or shaped laser beam impinging on the surface of hard-to-machine metal parts - just ahead of the cutting tool, which acted to soften the metal, leading to faster machining rates, less tool wear, and smoother finishes.&nbsp; <br /><br />The lasers we were using were also being used in a <a href="" target="_blank">cladding</a>&nbsp;process where layers of melted powder metals were laid down to create a new, more wear-resistant surface. We did play around with building up layers, but not to create a specific shape. Later, this technology was expanded at United Technologies as the laser beam melted and deposited metal to create an aircraft turbine component.<br /><br />Others experimented with the buildup process and several limited-success activities evolved. Holding back more widespread acceptance of this process was the usual reluctance on the part of industry to accept change.<br /><br />Early in the history of industrial lasers. the Brits had had the idea of cost-effective manufacturing of quantities-of one, but the concept never took root: too advanced for a slow-to-change industry. The evolution of "lean manufacturing" and the ideal of building quantities of one at a competitive price began to take hold several years ago. Some impetus came from the U.S. government, where the DOD sensed the future need for sources that could cope with the demand for replacement parts from industries that had long since stopped producing. <br /><br />Sitting in the wings was the <a href="" target="_blank">rapid prototyping</a>&nbsp;industry that had expanded its capabilities into <a href="" target="_blank">rapid manufacturing</a>&nbsp;and was experimenting with deposition of metal powders to make useable parts. A conjunction of this technology with the needs of lean manufacturing and the availability of powerful cost-effective fiber laser sources created the process now known as additive manufacturing and its subset, laser additive manufacturing (LAM).<br /><br />The Laser Institute of America recognized this technology as a process of the future and thus convened the <a href="" target="_blank">first LAM conference</a> in Houston last year. This year&rsquo;s event, again held in Houston, will expand its frontiers beyond aerospace into the more mundane needs of small- to medium-sized machine shops. Interested parties, for a start, might consider attending <a href="" target="_blank">LAM</a>&nbsp;and joining the growing network of LAM enthusiasts.<br /><br /><em>ILS</em> will feature articles on this subject, commencing with the March/April issue, where industry in the US is challenged to take up this technology. Like many technologies, its time has come, and the future is very bright for LAM.<br /><br />, New Year - I think noemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteThere's something about the start of a new year that I find refreshing. Maybe it's just looking at a calendar with 12-month listings of mostly good happenings such as: conferences, trade shows, and overseas trips, with the exception of a couple of not-so-good events, like a root canal I am scheduled for in February. <br /><br />I find it somewhat amusing that the end-of-the-year comments on the Internet were, for the most part, negative about the world's manufacturing economic forecasts and then after January 1 these same commentators turned more positive by finding rays of sunshine in the same bad news they promulgated in December. Just a few examples from <a href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #5588aa;">Industry Week</span></a>:<br /><br />Then&nbsp;- <a href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #5588aa;">German Industrial Output Tumbles Again</span></a> and <a href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #5588aa;">Japanese Manufacturers' Confidence Dives</span></a> <br />Now&nbsp;- <a href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #5588aa;">Advanced Manufacturing Comes to Life in 2012 and Make Your Move: Peril or Profit &ndash; What Should You Expect from the Economy in 2013</span></a>. <br /><br />Three commentaries, one up - two down.<br /><br />The early industrial laser news has been mostly positive, with several companies spending hoarded cash to buy some market share, for example Coherent beefing-up its ultra-fast pulse laser business with the <a href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #5588aa;">purchase of Lumera</span></a> and Leco (Lincoln Electric) <a href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #5588aa;">buying Tennessee Rand</span></a> and adding this systems builder to go along with last year's buy of special laser system maker, <a href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #5588aa;">Wayne Trail</span></a>. <br /><br />I like this laser news as it presages more good news as these and other companies restructure to meet the expected surge later this year: a subject I'll address at this year's <a href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #5588aa;">Laser &amp; Photonics Market seminar in San Francisco next month</span></a>., greetingsnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteIt's that time of year when many of us reflect on the past 12 months -- and if we are honest, we give some thought to what we did that didn't quite work out the way we had planned. Out of this may come a resolution to not do such things again in the new year. I come at this from a different, more pragmatic, direction: basically, what happened is history and move on from there.<br /><br />The reason I bring this up is that I have completed my Annual <a href="" target="_blank">Industrial Laser Market Review</a>, which will appear in the January/February issue of <i>Industrial Laser Solutions</i> magazine and also be presented at the annual <a href="" target="_blank">Laser &amp; Photonics Marketplace seminar</a> in San Francisco (February 4th) -- in which I will gracefully acknowledge that I pretty much called the laser economic performance as it worked out.<br /><br />Nursing a strained arm, a result of too much back-patting, I will bravely attempt to crystal-ball the 2013 markets. Like the most watched prognosticator, the weatherman, I'll take credit for the good forecast and ignore the bad; maybe that's where I developed my pragmatic attitude. (Just kidding, folks -- I don't get, nor want, gold medals for calling it right.)<br /><br />The industrial laser market was 'so-so' in 2012, with some sectors having a great year and others a not-so-bad year, much of which came in quarterly ups and downs through the year, not too many in sync. However, the third quarter seemed to be the most common for "down" news, a result I posit was due to laser and systems suppliers working off their 2011 backlogs. If companies were supplying the aerospace, transportation, energy, agriculture, personal communications, and medical devices markets, their fortunes were up. Since these sectors represent a major chunk of the total laser market, it was a good thing. My take on the other segments was that they had just an average year and as a consequence 2012 ended up in the mid-single-digit range for growth.<br /><br />For 2013, I am not convinced that the laser market will repeat the same performance. A message that came across when <a href="" target="_blank">talking with exhibitors at the last big show of 2012, Fabtech</a>, was to expect a flat year. Projections for 2013 ranged from that to low growth, with the exception coming from some of the 'star' sectors of 2012. I won't give away my analysis results; you'll have to read it in <i>ILS</i> or attend the San Francisco seminar. Suffice it to say, it's not the brightest forecast I have made.<br /><br />Other than that, please have a happy holiday season -- and let's think positive about 2013., 2012: Hiking through an oasis of lasers in the desertnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteWalking the 450,000 square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center dedicated to Fabtech for three days is usually a chore. This year, the hike was made longer by the fact that the booth assignment for <i>Industrial Laser Solutions</i> was as far from the main entrance as one could get, against the far wall of the Center hall. Reaching this "home base" location after forays into the Center and North halls of the show at times felt like being a constant hiker to the summit of Mount Everest. You were glad to get there and rest, but apprehensive about doing it again and again as you tried to visit all the laser exhibits among the 1100 spread throughout the halls.<br /><br />However, like good soldiers, my partner, associate editor Jim Montgomery, and I logged innumerable miles as we managed to see most of the exhibitors until we ran out of time, and energy, at the end of the third day.<br /><br />As already reported, the show <a href="" target="_blank">appeared to be a significant success</a>. We did not hear any negative comments about the show, and for the most part the positive comments were effusive regarding the quantity and quality of the show visitors. Business was good, with many orders closed by exhibitors and with others piling up leads as the first two days saw a continuous stream of visitors in the dozens of aisles. As an aside, we wondered where all these visitors were coming from: after all, there isn't much industry in and around Las Vegas since it's mostly desert. So we surmised that these adamant show-goers -- <a href="" target="_blank">more than 25,000 of them</a> -- came from a distance and spent time and money to see metal fabricating and welding specifically.<br /><br />On the morning of the final day, after a very strong Tuesday attendance, I recalled a video that was shot of me exiting the 2008 Fabtech (see below), which had been held in this same facility. My recorded comment was that the show had been a spectacular success, with many orders placed and prospects for the coming quarter projected as very bright. That show, like this year's, was scheduled <a href="" target="_blank">a few short weeks after a very successful EuroBlech</a> -- just as <a href="" target="_blank">happened this year</a>.<br /><br /><br /><div style="text-align: center;"><object classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000" codebase=",0,47,0" height="270" id="flashObj" width="480"><param name="movie" value="" /><param name="bgcolor" value="#FFFFFF" /><param name="flashVars" value="videoId=1842739346&playerID=106573683001&playerKey=AQ~~,AAAAAEheacc~,POub7blnBC8tn37VLau4uTM2tSAah19R&domain=embed&dynamicStreaming=true" /><param name="base" value="" /><param name="seamlesstabbing" value="false" /><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /><param name="swLiveConnect" value="true" /><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always" /><embed src="" bgcolor="#FFFFFF" flashVars="videoId=1842739346&playerID=106573683001&playerKey=AQ~~,AAAAAEheacc~,POub7blnBC8tn37VLau4uTM2tSAah19R&domain=embed&dynamicStreaming=true" base="" name="flashObj" width="480" height="270" seamlesstabbing="false" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowFullScreen="true" allowScriptAccess="always" swLiveConnect="true" pluginspage=""></embed></object></div><br /><br />You will recall that 2008 was a year of indecision, where "cautiously optimistic" became a marketing manager's mantra, whereas this year it is "uncertainty." At EuroBlech and Fabtech that year, positive business news seemed to run counter to all the negative financial news in the media. However, in the first week of December 2008, the bottom fell out of the laser market as order cancellations began to flow in, and projects were summarily delayed.<br /><br />Fabtech 2012 had an eerie feeling of d&eacute;jà vu. On my iPhone were reports of a return of recession in Europe, unrest in Israel/Palestine, and the "fiscal cliff" in the US. Strangely reminiscent of the negative news in 2008, just of a different character.<br /><br />I left the Las Vegas Convention Center with an unsettling feeling. Will 2012 be a repeat of 2008? My head tells me that things are different today, but my gut kept rumbling -- d&eacute;jà vu. I sincerely hope it was just indigestion from the Brazilian Churrasco I had the night before, and not an indication of some negative news to come., laser exhibition shows growthnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteThere has been a growing interest, among the industrial laser equipment suppliers, for a trade show of their own in which to promote their products to potential buyers who attend because of this interest. The Laser Institute of America (LIA), an international society mainly known as the organizer of the world renowned International Congress on Lasers and Electro-Optics (ICALEO), stepped up to the plate last year and they organized the first <a href="" target="_blank">Lasers for Manufacturing Event</a> (LME).<br /><br />The October 22nd second convening of this event, again held in Schaumburg, IL, was a larger version of the inaugural with an additional 30% exhibitors and a growth in attendance of 37%. Peter Baker, LIA executive director, told me that the growth of LME was akin to that old adage, "You must crawl before you walk." Consequently the LIA, with two years under its belt, has committed to another three years at the attractive and convenient Schaumburg Convention Center.<br /><br />Attempting to slide an industrial trade show into an already crowded calendar is not an easy task. Many of these trade shows (<a href="" target="_blank">IMTS</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Fabtech</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">EuroBlech</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">MD&amp;M</a>, and even the LIA's own <a href="" target="_blank">ICALEO</a>) have industrial laser material processing related content, drawing away potential exhibitors and attendees. However LME is a truly different show -- it is a show of industrial laser suppliers showing their products to interested laser buyers. As more than one exhibitor told me this year, "The level of interest among attendees is of high quality because this is an industrial laser show, and the majority of visitors came because they have interest in this technology." Another exhibitor said they had doubled their orders this year over last year. Confirming this good news, 90% of exhibitors surveyed advised they will return next,'s too early for weirdnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteThis spot has not been updated for a while due in large part to my relative incapacity -- a result of some unplanned surgery that sapped my energy. I suggest readers might find it amusing to read My View, appearing in the November/December issue of <i>ILS</i>, for details. But I am now almost 100% and back at the keyboard. Again, see My View for more thoughts on this.<br /><br />So how did the world fair while I was away? Let's see: the Eurozone is still a mess, although Greece is back in favor with a new finance minister in charge. However, Portugal and Spain are still stressing out -- no change there. <a href="" target="_blank">China remains the big thorn in everyone's side</a>, as manufacturing in that country has contracted for the 11th straight month and the economic expansion in August was the worst performance in three years. The government still seems to be focused on domestic opportunities, and there does not seem to be any support for assisting the capex market to produce sales of sophisticated imported equipment for the production of parts for export. The outlook in China, according to MAPI (Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation), is for 2012 manufacturing sales to grow 7.8%, down from previous estimates of 8.6%. For machinery and equipment, sales revenue is anticipated to be down 3% in 2012 and 4% in 2013 from previous estimates.<br /><br />All of this means that countries exporting equipment into China will have to gut out 2012 and hope the government has another change of policy to open the floodgates for imports in 2013.<br /><br />Working back down the food chain, this is not pleasant news for European companies dependent on exports to China. In the US, manufacturing grew for the first time in four months according to the ISM (Institute for Supply Management). And this poses a conundrum: are US companies dependent on sales to China or not? It looks like a "not" at this time, as manufacturing is cruising along even though surveys suggest that these companies are anxious about the possibility of a fiscal cliff brought on by domestic tax increases and budget cuts.<br /><br />Third quarter reports and guidance from our <i>ILS</i> survey companies will start to arrive in our offices in late November, just in time for compilation into our annual economic review of the laser market. As of this writing, I don't have a clue as to what the numbers will look like, but I have the feeling the China situation may finally be rearing its ugly head here, as in other industrialized nations. Whatever happens, it looks like a bumpy ride for the coming weeks.,'s Eastnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteChina, that powerhouse economy, <a href="" target="_blank">has thrown the world a curve-ball</a>. Some saw this coming, as the financial news from the country had turned neutral and then negative in the past few weeks. But like many Pollyannas, reality in the stock markets never set in and predictions of a government-led turnaround were common in manufacturing industry corporate reports to stockholders. The magic elixir of government stimulation, rapidly applied and instantly effective, was expected to turn this situation around. Weeks went by and this did not occur, at least in the short-run which had been the modus operandi since the recession.<br /><br />Official figures released over the weekend showed only an 8.7% increase in production, the same rate as the country experienced in the recession three years ago. It wasn't as sharp decline as China's economy had been slipping over the last year or so, refusing to react to government moves to turn it around -- and distinctly sending a message of independence from the non-state-owned manufacturing community. Both imports and exports took a hit with the former down 2.6% and the latter growing only a so-so 2.7%. With domestic demand slipping in China, this prolonged situation is not good news especially in countries and companies for whom exports to China may be their life-blood in a near-recession economy.<br /><br />Among the industrial laser and systems suppliers, this is troubling news. The end of the third quarter is only three weeks away and the anticipated recovery to stronger shipments to the Far East looks questionable. Some analysts see the government's infrastructure stimulus favoring imports in the coming months but there seems to be little support for an instant boom in the economy. That said, it looks like the industry will settle down to modest growth market in China into the new year.<br />, to the rescuenoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteI have been trumpeting <a href="" target="_blank">the resurgence of US manufacturing</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">the contribution of industrial lasers to it</a>, since the recession began its recovery. The latest supporting data: July saw <a href="" target="_blank">a second straight month of higher factory output</a> (0.5%), according to the Federal Reserve, and overall industrial production increased 0.6%, a fourth straight month of growth. And although <a href="" target="_blank">US manufacturing technology orders inched down in June 2012</a>, according to the Association For Manufacturing Technology (AMT, as backlogs swell in the supply chain, order activity is expected to rejuvenate by summer's end.<br><br>Articles are now appearing in all the industrial-related publications, supporting the growth of US manufacturing as the rest of the world has gone into a manufacturing slump. Every once in a while I come across a succinct look at the US manufacturing sector from an observer. Mike Collins, president of MPC Management and the author of <a href="" target="_blank"><I>Saving American Manufacturing</I></a>, has nailed it in <a href="" target="_blank">his latest contribution</a>. I highly recommend it.<br><br>Thank you Mike, for reminding us that the US is still a technology leader.<br />, your mark in the worldnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteI've been looking at the quarterly reports, and transcripts of telephone analyst interviews, of several <a href="" target="_blank">industrial laser</a> <a href="" target="_blank">industry</a> <a href="" target="_blank">leaders</a>, and I have also been keeping an unofficial tab on Google postings, and it is clear to me that <a href="" target="_blank">laser marking</a> is experiencing a strong year akin to pre-recession double digit growth levels.<br><br><a href="" target="_blank">Laser marking systems</a> are the closest thing the industrial laser industry has to a consumer product. I liken it to a laser printer in the office products business, or a pick-and-place robot in the manufacturing sector. The term "ubiquitous" is apt because there are at least 155 companies in the <I>Industrial Laser Solutions</I> database of global laser marking system suppliers, with more showing up each week.<br><br>For those of you who haven't been paying attention to this application, let me explain why it has arrived at its current stature. Simply put, it's because of industry standards and government regulations for <a href="" target="_blank">product marking and identification for traceability and security purposes</a>.<br><br>Years ago, pioneers in the laser industry used to bemoan the fact that the laser was not like a razor, where the aftersales market for the consumable razor blades was where the profits were made. Lo and behold, the consumables issue worked in reverse for the laser companies. Users' issues with consumables when using ink-jet labeling created an interest in the non-consumable laser marking technology. This, along with other technical advantages -- legibility, <a href="" target="_blank">permeability</a>, readability, and process flexibility -- built the market for laser marking systems. So when corporations, trade associations, and governments looked for a marking technology with these attributes, they settled on the laser. This created a market built on regulations, which carried the industry through the recession in better shape than other laser technologies. This is all neatly spelled out in the now available <a href="" target="_blank"><I>Industrial Laser Solutions</i> Laser Marking Digest</a>.<br><br>By the end of this year, more than 36,000 laser marking/engraving systems <a href="" target="_blank">worth between three-quarter and one billion dollars</a> will have been installed globally. This will be at least a 10% growth over a good 2011 sales year. And the next time you see one of those 2D bar codes on a package, consider that precise laser marking allows the users to pack more marketing data in this identifier than other processes, assuring continuing growth in this industrial laser, and curiouser: Unearthing a gem from ILS' readership datanoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteA good editor looks for trends in the markets they report on. Searching for some clues as to <a href="" target="_blank">shifts in the industrial laser markets</a>, I have been reviewing the geographic breakdown of <i>Industrial Laser Solutions</i>' international readers, which comprise almost half the total readership. And I found a gem: among the African readers of <i>ILS</i> (we have subscribers in 32 of the continent's 52 countries), 31% are located in Nigeria, making this nation the heaviest reader of <i>ILS</i>. I would have thought this distinction belonged to South Africa which has an acknowledged manufacturing economy, but it is home to only 18% of <i>ILS</i>' African readership -- and it isn't even second, with that honor going to Egypt at 21%.<br /><br />So I looked back at data from five years ago, and found the African splits were in the same order, but back then Africa only accounted for 0.7% of <i>ILS</i>'s readers versus today's 2.7%. Is there something going on in the industrial laser community in that continent that caused a greater than 300% increase in those interested in industrial lasers?<br /><br />Nigeria is one-third larger than Texas and it is the most populous country in Africa. Industrially it generates revenues from crude oil, coal, tin, palm oil, cotton, footwear, chemicals, fertilizer, ceramics, steel, and small commercial ship construction and repair. Petroleum and petroleum products, cocoa, and rubber are its major exports.<br /><br />Among our Nigerian readers, 65% identify themselves as CEOs, directors, engineering and production managers, and engineers in companies that seem to be heavily slanted to the petroleum industry and its service companies. That sector is a potential choice market for laser applications such as <a href="" target="_blank">welding</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">laser additive manufacturing</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">drilling</a>. Without Googling all the readers' companies (which might be fun but time-consuming), it's hard to find an obvious reason why <i>ILS</i> and industrial laser technology seem to be of such interest in Africa's largest nation.<br /><br />Last year in a <i>My View</i> column on the manufacturing economy, <a href="" target="_blank">I made a prediction about Africa's place</a> as a factor in the industrial market and when it could happen. It was written as tongue-in-cheek and meant to be a think piece, yet it drew a surprising amount of supportive comments. Others, it seems, are also of the opinion that Africa will be a "hot industrial laser market." Maybe my 25-year horizon was a bit off, as evidenced by this publication's readership growth.<br /><br /><I><B>Update 7/17/2012</B></I>: And apparently I'm not the only one who is turning my attention to Africa as a high-growth region -- the latest issue of <I>Fortune</I> has hit my desk with a special advertising section, "Africa's Moment" [<a href="" target="_blank">PDF download here</a>], discussing Africa's emergence "as a strong global player" for private sector and economic development, I hate mid-week holidaysnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteI am just as patriotic as the next guy, I guess, respectfully honoring Independence Day on the 4th of July -- but not when it occurs in the middle of the week. My complaint here is that I experience two "Mondays" in one week, and that's not a good thing. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is working and my international e-mails keep streaming in, waiting for answers while I lounge in the hammock.<br /><br />To top off this year's July event, the business news is not good. While trying to fathom what impact a reported <a href=";cid=NLQMN" target="_blank">slowdown in Latin America, Brazil and Argentina</a> will have on industrial laser exports, I was hit by a new <i>Wall Street Journal</i> headline: "<a href="" target="_blank">Factory Slump Reaches US.</a>" In this case, the former feeds the latter. Not a pleasant way to celebrate the 4th.<br /><br />The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) <a href="" target="_blank">has revised its Latin America forecast</a> for overall manufacturing output in 2012 down to 3.1% from 4.4%. According to MAPI, manufacturing activity in Brazil stopped a year ago and has been contracting for the past six months. Brazil has been identified as a major market for industrial laser products -- as recently as last month, at <a href="" target="_blank">a VDMA briefing in Stuttgart</a>, Brazil was identified as prime territory for industrial laser expansion.<br /><br />In fairness, the MAPI report was very positive on Mexico, which, led by automotive and machinery, is proving resilient to the downward trend in <a href="" target="_blank">Latin America</a>.<br /><br />The effects of global economic slowdown have finally filtered down to the US manufacturing sector, where the Institute for Supply Management says <a href="" target="_blank">exports fell and new orders dropped</a> for the first time since July 2009. Many experts <a href="" target="_blank">had anticipated this</a>, thinking it was an inevitable action as Europe, a major trading partner, can't seem to get its act together and the stop-gap action by China's government to get that countries economy moving again seems to have had little effect.<br /><br />As I rock in my hammock, a thought occurs to me. The USA fought for its independence on this day we celebrate -- but some 230 years later our independence is questionable, as a global economy and its effects make us interdependent on the actions of, 2012: Confidence in Europe, questions about Chinanoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteA heavy attendance on Wednesday (2500+) had show organizers confident that they can achieve their projected show total of 4500. More importantly, <a href="" target="_blank">the savvy visitors</a> are here to see the laser and system exhibitors of which there were about half the total. LASYS does not show sheet-metal cutters for political reasons; a competing show here gets them later in the year.<br /><br />Fiber lasers, diodes, ultrafast-pulse, and disc lasers have been featured at this year's LASYS -- but the industry leader IPG Photonics choose not to show, a surprise to all. TRUMPF and Rofin have major exhibits, and Trumpf has been busy every day. Products attracting interest have been micromachining, marking, drilling, and surfacing; most of these are smallish systems suitable for the size of this show.<br /><br />LASYS remains very much a German show, with the rare US, Italian, and French systems being displayed. Most of the attendees are from Germany, although the show management did not have demographics available as this is being written. I spoke with a few visitors from Central and Eastern Europe who were job-shop owners shopping for micromachining systems.<br /><br />Arnold Mayer, a market analyst with Optech Consulting, <a href="" target="_blank">pegs the total 2012 industrial laser systems market at $10 billion</a>, with projected growth flat &plusmn; 5%. This includes excimers used in photolithography, which <i>ILS</i> does not include in our market analyses.<br /><br />The underlying concern about the European economy surfaces whenever the industrial laser market is discussed. However, the exhibitors here at LASYS seem reconciled to this sorting itself out, and that the situation will change for the better next year. Trumpf, the 800-pound gorilla, claims it will show an increase for the year, but company managers could not be pinned down to a number.<br /><br />In fact, I have heard more concern about China than about Europe. Mayer pegs China at $1B last year, but he too is concerned that things have slowed for lasers there, at least for the last, from LASYS 2012: Savvy crowds returnnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteThe second day of LASYS dawned gray, gloomy, and wet, but <a href="" target="_blank">the anticipated crowds showed up once again</a>, certifying that, in Germany at least, day two is the most heavily attended. The show's six aisles were full early, and through mid-day most exhibitors were busy meeting prospects. Add to this the extra attendance offered by large numbers of attendees at the <a href="" target="_blank">Stuttgart Laser Technology Congress</a> being held concurrently, and Wednesday should be a good day for exhibitors. Assuming that the attendance holds up, LASYS may make its target numbers by the end of Thursday.<br /><br />Several new-to-LASYS exhibitors showing <a href="" target="_blank">ultrafast pulse</a> and/or <a href="" target="_blank">fiber lasers</a> or disc lasers drew the attention of show goers. Attendees conditioned to these lasers and the applications they process were drawn to the offerings of new suppliers. Counter to shows in the US where these products would be received as novel, potential users in Germany understand the processing advantages of these lasers as a given. This more knowledgeable customer base makes it easier for vendors to present the merits of a given laser system, rather than explain the processing advantages of a, from LASYS 2012: An encouraging start despite EU sogginessnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteLASYS 2012, happening this week (June 12-14) in Stuttgart, Germany, opened with a spurt of attendees -- which was unusual for a German trade show, where attendee numbers typically increase on the second day. 179 exhibitors breathed a sigh of relief, as concern for the economy here in Europe is on everyone's mind.<br /><br />However, mid-day traffic dropped to a more normal level. I'm not sure if it was an early afternoon rainstorm that cut the crowds down, but there were a lot of exhibitor-to-exhibitor conversations as the attendance fell off after 3PM. Nevertheless, several exhibitors we spoke with said that the lower volume inquiries were of high quality, and that was a blessing.<br /><br />Two adjacent shows on auto technology drew crowds, but these were confined to their respective halls on the first day, and any fallout from these wasn't expected until Thursday of this week. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the big day at LASYS 2012 -- and we, along with all the other exhibitors, are hoping that the show projections for total attendance (4500) can be achieved and even, vs. CO2 lasers for job shops: Clarifying the AKL controversynoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteAs expected, I have already received comments relative to <a href="" target="_blank">the news item I posted</a> from last week's International Laser Technology Conference (AKL) in Aachen on fiber versus CO<sub>2</sub> laser cutting. First off, let me be clear on what <a href="">John Powell from Laser Expertise</a> presented from a paper he co-authored with A.F.H Kaplan of the Lulea University of Technology -- it was a "discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of <a href="" target="_blank">both types of laser cutting technology</a> from a commercial point of view, written from the perspective of a laser cutting job-shop owner trying to decide between buying a fiber or CO<sub>2</sub> laser cutting machine." His early conclusion was that the machine choice is not straightforward, and that "both machines have advantages and disadvantages."<br /><br />During his introduction, Powell clarified that his analysis considered fiber laser to mean both fiber and disc lasers, and quoted Dr. Dirk Petring's (Fraunhofer ILT) comments made at last year's <a href="" target="_blank">Industrial Laser Applications Symposium</a> (ILAS, March 2011, Warrington, UK) comparing CO<sub>2</sub> and fiber lasers for cutting <i>thin section</i> (Powell's emphasis) metal, that "the CO<sub>2</sub> laser is dead." Simply put, for cutting metals thinner than 3 mm the fiber is faster and the edge quality is as good. So, for manufacturers of thin-gauge metal components, the fiber is the better choice.<br /><br />For a job-shop, though, the choice is not as clear. So he investigated two machines, a 5 kW CO<sub>2</sub> from Trumpf and a 3 kW fiber from Bystronic. Setting aside all the detailed data these suppliers provided, Powell decided on "two basic considerations" for the potential job-shop users: what will be the cost/part produced, and how good is the cut quality?<br /><br />For cutting thin-gauge stainless steel. he gives the edge to the fiber laser which is 25-50% faster than the CO<sub>2</sub> laser, especially when cutting large simple shapes. At 4 mm the cutting speeds converge, and above 8 mm the advantage goes to the CO<sub>2</sub> laser.<br /><br />Looking at running costs, Powell gives the edge to the fiber laser, citing its lower maintenance cost -- although he qualified this by noting the dearth of long-term operating data for the newer fiber laser technology.<br /><br />As to cut quality, he acknowledged that suppliers of both technologies have narrowed the quality differences up to 6-8 mm thicknesses, but for thicknesses above this range the CO<sub>2</sub> laser excels. Powell gave credit to the fiber laser for oxygen-assist cutting of mild steels where the cut edges are comparable.<br /><br />The edge in cutting copper and aluminum alloys goes to the fiber laser. CO<sub>2</sub> lasers get the nod for <a href="" target="_blank">cutting plastic</a> and wood-based products. He noted, though, that most job shops only cut a small amount of these materials.<br /><br />So, Powell's conclusion: if you are a job shop with a wide range of cutting requirements, you "should buy CO<sub>2</sub> machines until you have enough suitable work to fill the capacity of a fiber laser." For manufacturing companies making products from thin section metals, "your first choice should probably be a fiber laser." Prospective buyers, he advised, should get actual cutting trials done on typical jobs by potential suppliers of both types of machines.<br /><br />Interestingly, many of the questions from the AKL audience dealt with technical aspects, which he answered. But he cautioned several times that his analysis was made from the perspective of a job-shop buyer, and consequently his two basic considerations -- cost/part and cut edge quality -- were the most important, times are rolling in the USnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteI'm sitting here feeling smug. The business headlines say it better than me: <a href="" target="_blank">"Industry Picks Up the Pace"</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">"Manufacturing Report Shows Continued Growth"</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">"Dow Headed for Highest Close Since '07 on Manufacturing</a>." All three, and many more references to <a href="" target="_blank">what is happening in the United States</a>, seem to be confounding the economic experts and stock market analysts. The <a href="" target="_blank">April numbers from the Institute for Supply Management</a> hit 54.8% in April, the 33rd consecutive month of growth and fastest pace since June of last year.<br /><br />Sorry folks -- except for those who have been <a href="" target="_blank">following my ramblings</a> on the health of the US manufacturing sector -- but here's a quote from that <i>WSJ</i> article I just can't help chuckling over: "The report surprised many economists who had forecast a slower manufacturing growth in the face of downturn overseas." Surprised? Come on, people! Come down from your ivory towers on Wall Street and out of your dusty university offices, and get out in the field and talk to the companies that are driving the renaissance in US manufacturing. Maybe they should have read the optimistic news items that have been appearing since the year started. It may be short-lived, but revel in the good news.<br /><br />In my presentation on the US market for industrial lasers, to be given at the <a href="" target="_blank">International Technology Congress</a> (AKL) in Aachen next week, I will have to rein in my enthusiasm about the US situation in deference to the gray, and even black, picture for manufacturing in Europe. We here in the US have been there also in the recent past and we know what you are experiencing. For you, it's austerity to avoid recession; for us it was financial market finagling. But the result was the same: pain in the manufacturing sector.<br /><br />So hang in there -- best-case, you'll either recover soon, or the US will get dragged down by your problems and join you. Let's hope not, or those pesky doomsday analysts might finally get it, times are rolling in the USGood times are rolling in the USnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteI'm sitting here feeling smug. The business headlines say it better than me: <a href="" target="_blank">"Industry Picks Up the Pace"</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">"Manufacturing Report Shows Continued Growth"</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">"Dow Headed for Highest Close Since '07 on Manufacturing</a>." All three, and many more references to <a href="" target="_blank">what is happening in the United States</a>, seem to be confounding the economic experts and stock market analysts. The <a href="" target="_blank">April numbers from the Institute for Supply Management</a> hit 54.8% in April, the 33rd consecutive month of growth and fastest pace since June of last year.<br /><br />Sorry folks -- except for those who have been <a href="" target="_blank">following my ramblings</a> on the health of the US manufacturing sector -- but here's a quote from that <i>WSJ</i> article I just can't help chuckling over: "The report surprised many economists who had forecast a slower manufacturing growth in the face of downturn overseas." Surprised? Come on, people! Come down from your ivory towers on Wall Street and out of your dusty university offices, and get out in the field and talk to the companies that are driving the renaissance in US manufacturing. Maybe they should have read the optimistic news items that have been appearing since the year started. It may be short-lived, but revel in the good news.<br /><br />In my presentation on the US market for industrial lasers, to be given at the <a href="" target="_blank">International Technology Congress</a> (AKL) in Aachen next week, I will have to rein in my enthusiasm about the US situation in deference to the gray, and even black, picture for manufacturing in Europe. We here in the US have been there also in the recent past and we know what you are experiencing. For you, it's austerity to avoid recession; for us it was financial market finagling. But the result was the same: pain in the manufacturing sector.<br /><br />So hang in there -- best-case, you'll either recover soon, or the US will get dragged down by your problems and join you. Let's hope not, or those pesky doomsday analysts might finally get it right.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, early to abandon shipnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteThings are not looking so good for the home team these last few days, and members of the Red Sox Nation are burning up the sports talk show phone lines as the boys of summer can't seem to get started this year, now showing a losing record. On the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking -- and that of Fenway Park, ironically -- the fans are lining the railings ready to abandon ship.<br><br>As I listen to callers, who must not be veteran Red Sox fans who have learned to take the good with the bad, I marvel at how quickly they seem to have thrown in the sponge, judging that this will be a losing season, after only a dozen games out of 162.<br><br>I'm sensing the same from some of the business media who comment on activity in the U.S. manufacturing sector. For some reason, some scribes seem to be obsessed with recession and downturns. One says the U.S. manufacturing sector <a href="" target="_blank">is showing signs of vulnerability</a>, citing those pesky housing numbers that seem to upset Wall Street every month. (I commented on this <a href="" target="_blank">in my last blog</a>.) Others see danger in Europe, trotting out <a href="" target="_blank">the latest grim news</a> from the International Monetary Fund. Specifically pointing to troubles in Spain, another <a href="" target="_blank">quotes a banker</a> in that country: "Many people think that austerity is going to make the economic situation worse."<br><br>A few pieces of negative information has these writers donning life jackets and climbing over the ship's rail. We are not sinking, guys -- its only three months into the year.<br><br>I will say this, however -- while there is cause for concern about the health of the manufacturing economy here in the U.S. and some sectors abroad, there is also a level of confidence among industrialists. Most have their houses in order, having played it close to the vest in terms of staffing-up as the recovery progresses and increasing their capital expenditure budgets. This caution, at that time read by some analysts as negative, is now paying off and these companies are poised to make it through 2012 in good shape, for what many think will be a return to global prosperity in 2013.<br><br>Here at <I>ILS</I> I decided on <a href="" target="_blank">a conservative approach in the 2012 forecast</a>, and took a little heat for a modest single-digit growth in system revenues. I'm tweaking that number by a couple of percent in the mid-year report I will present in a June 12th Webcast. Check <a href="" target="_blank"></a>) for details on, a spring recoverynoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteMemo to economists: What part of the supply/demand principle don't you understand?<br /><br />I just put down my morning paper after reading an <i>Associated Press</i> news item, <a href="" target="_blank">"Factory output, hiring go up,"</a> in which the good news is tempered by a separate report on construction spending showing that building activity declined again, "disappointing economists." On the same page, directly below, was a <i>New York Times</i> story, <a href="" target="_blank">"Investors eye tons of homes,"</a> describing the investment opportunity to be gained from the massive inventory of pre-owned homes.<br /><br />Really, economists? You know (or should) that excess inventory unbalances the supply/demand curve. So why would anyone invest in building new homes until that inventory is worked down?<br /><br />On a more pleasant note, that <i>AP</i> article and <a href="" target="_blank">one in the <i>Washington Post</i></a> trumpet the growth and health of the U.S. manufacturing sector, now at 32 straight months of expansion. The <i>Post</i> says slowdowns in China and weakness in European manufacturing are drags on those and world economies. Meanwhile, the U.S. perks along with an ISM (Institute of Supply Management index) of 53.4 for March and employment reaching 56.1 on the ISM index. Any ISM score above 50 shows expansion.<br /><br />Next month at the <a href="" target="_blank">AKL 12 meeting</a> in Aachen, Germany, I will present my view of the U.S. market for industrial laser processing systems. I'll show my audience that while the US is in third place among the industrial laser installation sectors, we are serving a half-dozen key industries that have shown resilience in and after the Great Recession, and which offer great opportunities for continuing success in the near term. I'll back up my position with data such as that quoted above.<br /><br />So economists: Wake up, smell the spring flowers, and rejoice a little in this Easter season. U.S. manufacturers understand supply and demand, so watch what they do, not just the new housing, winds of changenoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteI&rsquo;ve always been an admirer of FedEx Corporation, with my respect starting when I did a business school case study on the company when it was known as Federal Express. Over the years I have been attracted to the company&rsquo;s ability to translate its business plans into success stories, so when the company announced <a href=""></a><a href="">_whatsNews</a> that it will scale-back its global economic growth forecasts and to compensate, park some aircraft and reduce employment numbers, I pay attention.<br /><br />That resource is not the only clue that I follow; I was also instructed to look at the sales of corrugated cardboard because much of what is manufactured ends up being shipped in a box. And my son, a railroad man, always counsels me to look at freight car loadings for a clue to tomorrow's economy.<br /><br />Notice I use the word "clue". And that should give tell you: it&rsquo;s just another piece of the puzzle that I move around as I try to assemble a picture of how the industrial laser business will fare as the year progresses. <a href=""> </a><br /><br />Right now I am more concerned about what looks like the beginning of cracks in the normally monolithic hierarchy of the Chinese government. The news out of China, traditionally well controlled by government spinmeisters, has been truly challenged by the pervasiveness of the Internet with its instant analysis and comments that are beyond even their control. With the Internet,&nbsp; we now hear&nbsp; about the debates over philosophical differences between conservative Maoists at the top and more liberal pro-capitalists. And this discourse, as they say, is good thing, as long as it is debate and not one-sided dialogue.<br /><br />My sense is that a fundamental change in the Chinese government could happen, and the stock markets don&rsquo;t like change. Thus, the news from China is being vetted carefully to sense the impact on the industrial laser market in that country. China is the world's largest market for these lasers, and international suppliers worked their way out of the global recession by trading on the Chinese government's stimulus of its manufacturing industries. I know my friends in Germany are keeping a weathereye out for any pending winds of change that might slow market growth because China is one of their largest export markets. And since Germany delivers a major share of the industrial laser revenues, I, too, have my finger up in the air to detect a change in the wind, you say you do and then you say you don'tnoemail@noemail.orgDavid Belforte<div><br /><br /><br />Forecasting may be the easy part, explaining why you got it wrong after publishing it is the<br />hard part. So I was pleased to read, in an <a href="" target="_blank">article </a>by Casselman and Izzo in the February 13th Wall Street Journal, that I wasn&rsquo;t theonly one that guessed wrong on the 2011 economy. It seems that 52 economists WSJ surveyed weren&rsquo;t great forecasters as they predicted the economy would move forward and things were looking good. Then, as they say, &ldquo;all hell broke loose&rdquo; followed by one in Thailand and the economy tanked in Europe and all bets on a good year were off. As the Journal says, &ldquo;The results reflect the inherent uncertainty of economic prognostication.&rdquo;<br />For my part I went the other way on the industrial laser economy and took a more conservative approach. The result, I missed the record year number and had to do a fast shuffle at the end of November to get a more reasonable number in&nbsp;print in the January issue of ILS.<br />The Association for Manufacturing Technology just reported their calendar 2011 numbers. December U.S. manufacturing technology orders were up 12.2% from November and up 12.7% when compared with the total of $461.48 million reported for December 2010. For the year 2011 was up 66.4% compared with 2010, making 2011 the strongest year in more than a decade and higher than forecasters predicted.<br />I had noted the strength in the U.S. manufacturing sector but frankly was reticent to report it, as were many other analysts. We were all waiting for the proverbial other shoe, a double dip recession, to drop, month after month, until it became a non-issue in the fourth quarter.<br />Now I am reconsidering my forecast for 2012, especially since the WSJ economists are predicting only a modestly fast growth in 2012. They got it wrong last year and who says they won&rsquo;t this year. Their track record isn&rsquo;t great.</div>, times in the city by the baynoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteOptimism with caution was the rule-of-the-day among the dozens of exhibitors we interviewed at this year's Photonics West, held in San Francisco last week. This show has grown from an<br />intra-industry event to one of the world&rsquo;s premier international photonics exhibitions now expanding into the field of industrial laser material processing equipment.<br /><br />If it hadn&rsquo;t been for the continuing mixed economic news from Europe, the gloom and doom of feature stories in the media, and the playoff loss of the local San Francisco 49&rsquo;s professional football team, nobody would have had any complaints. And why not &ndash;about 20,000 visitors, presenters, and exhibitors helped to set an attendance record for show and conference. Almost 1200 exhibitors filled two halls at the Moscone Center, and from the opening bell, the aisles were full of enthusiastic lookers and<br />buyers.<br /><br />Earlier in the week, at the Lasers &amp; Photonics Marketplace Seminar, I had presented a glowing picture of the 2011 market and forecasts for a good but not great 2012. My remarks were corroborated by exhibitors who had attended the seminar with the general consensus being that a modest mid-single digit growth on 2012 coupled with the phenomenal 2011 growth wouldn't be all that bad.<br /><br />If there was one drag among show-goers, it was the nagging news that suppliers were playing it close to the vest in terms of increasing employment and that Capex was being monitored<br />closely.<br /><br />From the long dinner lines at area restaurants, it seemed that Photonics West was an economic boom for expense spending, and city officials might take note and lay out a more welcoming carpet for next year's event. You wouldn't even know we were in town, if talking to cab drivers is any indication. Or maybe the laid-back Silicon Valley residents are blas&eacute; when it comes to exciting technology shows and<br />, microprocessing &#151; a bright futurenoemail@noemail.orgDavid Belforte<a href="">Laser micromachining</a> was recently defined in a magazine as being &ldquo;for those who must think small," a good example of tautology (restatement in other words of an idea already stated). I&rsquo;m often asked to define the term and rather than being tautological I usually say it's processing on a micron scale.<br /><br />Semiconductor processing and applications in microelectronics fit this description nicely, but the sector on the border line is <a href="">laser processing medical devices</a>. Is laser welding of implantable devices, for example, pacemakers, a micro or macro application? At <span style="font-style: italic;">Industrial Laser Solutions</span>, we classify this as micro.<br /><br />As the makers of medical devices strive to miniaturize their high tolerance products such as catheters, thin-wall tubing, stents, and wire insulation &mdash; the use of ultra-short pulse laser technology for <a href="">drilling</a>, <a href="">welding</a>, and ablating on a micron scale boosted the acceptance of this laser as a means to achieve precision solutions to intricate applications in new materials ranging from memory alloys to polymers.<br /><br />The "think small" concept certainly doesn&rsquo;t apply to the market for ultra-short pulse lasers, which has been doubling each year for the past three years &mdash; <span style="font-style: italic;">ILS</span> forecasts it will grow 95% in 2012 &mdash; and is likely to show more modest growth thereafter only because the base numbers have become substantial. One could get a little cute and say that the laser microprocessing market is "macro".<br /><br />At <span style="font-style: italic;">Industrial Laser Solutions</span>, we think the micro market, so dependent on the precise nature of the laser processes, has unlimited growth, New Year, I thinknoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteWhen I reasoned why the manufacturing sectors served by industrial lasers were outperforming analysts' forecasts, I was slightly hesitant to talk about it. I had been stung before in 2008 when I came away from EuroBlech in October touting the optimistic forecast of the fabricating metals sector only to be rudely shocked into reality as that industry collapsed in December of that year as the great recession of 2009 took hold.<br /><br />But today the industries that exhibit fertile ground for growth in industrial laser processing - energy, transportation, medical devices, fabricated metal products and aerospace - are now acknowledged by even the most jaded analysts as solid factors in positioning manufacturing as an economic leader in an otherwise down market. And by extension these industries are a strong contributor to the record 2011 growth of industrial laser revenues.<br /><br />However, once stung - forever wary, and I reacted to the beginnings of some less than enthusiastic forecasts by showing caution in my 2012 market forecast, which those of you who are digital subscribers will read on January 15th and others will read online at <a href=""></a> the next week.<br /><br />But now, as this is being written, a raft of new information is appearing that suggests that manufacturing, at least in the US, is in for a more active period than anticipated. The <a href="">Institute for Supply Management</a> cued by a strong December growth in manufacturing suggests that the first half of 2012 should be very good for US manufacturing and in fact 11 of 18 US manufacturing industries will expand in the first 6 months of the year, including those that drove the 2011 market to new highs. Furthermore, 3 of our market drivers are forecast to expand for the entire year.<br /><br />The Association for Manufacturing Technology and I were on the same track, and they cautiously forecast a positive outlook for 2012. IHI Global Insight was more positive, saying that a 2012 recession was unlikely.<br /><br />Globally, the picture was not as clear and <a href="">The Washington Post</a> hedged on the US situation, as seen by surveyed economists, as possibly threatened by the situation in Europe, an issue that I factored into my forecast.<br /><br />Right now, things look bright in the industrial laser sector at least for the first two quarters. Even problems in solar seemed to be easing as expansion in South America is set to grow this year. So sit back and enjoy 2012, at least the first half, and hope that it is strong enough to offset any potential decline later in the,"Non-conventional" industry breaks 2008 recordnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteIt won&rsquo;t be long before that bearded guy in the red suit will be making his annual appearance and right behind him that little kid in the diapers that welcomes the new year. You&rsquo;ll pardon me if I protest that it seems like yesterday when they showed up last year, my how time flies.<br /><br />I just finished my PowerPoint for the late January "Marketplace for Lasers & Photonics" meeting in San Francisco ( and have been making a last review of the numbers. Each year I cut it closer and closer to the deadline for submission of this file as I massage the final 3rd quarter numbers that continue to come in. For example, I've received changes in the financials of companies that suffered losses as a result of the flooding in Thailand, II-VI Corp. was one of the more notable ones.<br /><br />As a little Christmas gift, I&rsquo;ll give you a hint of what will be disclosed in my forthcoming report in 2011. Sales revenues for industrial lasers (almost $2 billion) and systems (more than $7 billion) broke the 2008 records by 11%, wiping out the losses of the recession a year ahead of what the industry expected. <br /><br />Historically, since 1970, the year I date as the beginning of industrial laser sales, more than a half million lasers have been sold &ndash; valued at close to $22 billion &ndash; which were integrated into systems worth more than $75 billion &ndash; for a CAGR of 17%. Not bad for an industry that was labeled, in it&rsquo;s early years, as "non-conventional" by statisticians. In fact, last time I looked, laser machines represented about 10% of total world machine tool sales.<br /><br />And as I will report in the new year, even with some cooling-off in the markets, industrial lasers and systems should grow another 5% in 2012<br /><br />So, Happy Holidays to all and see you in, and expansion evident at Fabtechnoemail@noemail.orgDavid Belforte<p>We had early clues that Fabtech International (Chicago, November 14-17) was going to be a success from exhibitors and from the FMA/SME organizers' preregistation numbers. But when the doors opened at McCormick Place, thousands of visitors lined up for badges, and at the opening bell, mobs of determined manufacturing people surged into the North and South Halls, many heading purposely for specific exhibits. And the second day of the show was even more packed than the first.<br> <br> I was sitting on the mezzanine of the large TRUMPF exhibit as the opening bell sounded. Hordes of visitors could be seen rushing toward the major exhibits that were clustered near the front of the South Hall. Below me in the TRUMPF exhibition area, every system and sales representative were immediately engaged in discussions. The same held true at many other exhibits I could see from my perch.<br> <br> At the end of the first two days, exhibitors had all met or exceeded past show records, and many were posting sold signs on the equipment on display. Several major exhibitors told me about sales consummated at the show. For example Burke Doar, VP Sales of TRUMPF Inc. said the 12 units booked on the first day was in-line with good show records of the past.<br> <br> So I set off to ask all the major industrial laser system exhibitors their show experience and their impression of the current year's sales and prospects for 2012. Exhibitor after exhibitor praised the show; expected to have a good, great or record sales year; and looked forward to a continued good, but not great 2012.<br> <br> These opinions were backed up by solid facts on the strength of key markets: agricultural and heavy equipment, aerospace, transportation and energy. Asked about the fabricated metal job shop sector, most were equally positive about it, even though it has been feeling the pinch of tight bank lending policies which has required some creative financial arrangements on the part of the equipment sellers. <br> <br> The companies that participate in the annual market survey I conduct all modified the conservative estimates they made at the beginning of the year. It looks like the North American sheet metal system sales for 2011 will be about 725 units, a number equal to the very good pre-recession year of 2001.<br> <br> <br> So how to explain this excellent performance of the laser cutting system suppliers in light of all the negative media comments on the state of manufacturing in North America? I received a number of explanations, but the one that seemed most factual was that the industries served by laser cutting systems were not experiencing market problems, and buyers of capital equipment had the resources to expand their business, even in what seems to be a shaky economy. Yes, I heard that some buying decisions were made after long deliberations, but in the end these buyers were betting that the manufacturing market had a positive future.<br> <br> Fabtech 2011 was a great show. As this was being written we still had not received the official show attendance figures. Exhibitors left with good feelings about near-term prospects, and visitors were upbeat about their business prospects. Counter to prevailing sentiment among the economists, yes, but I could not find weaknesses in the market forecasts we heard.<br> <br> Posted by David Belforte</p> <div class="blogger-post-footer"><img height="1" width="1" src=""></div>, and expansion evident at Fabtech 2011noemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteWe had early clues that Fabtech International (Chicago, November 14-17) was going to be a success from exhibitors and from the FMA/SME organizers' preregistation numbers. But when the doors opened at McCormick Place, thousands of visitors lined up for badges, and at the opening bell, mobs of determined manufacturing people surged into the North and South Halls, many heading purposely for specific exhibits. And the second day of the show was even more packed than the first.<br /><br />I was sitting on the mezzanine of the large TRUMPF exhibit as the opening bell sounded. Hordes of visitors could be seen rushing toward the major exhibits that were clustered near the front of the South Hall. Below me in the TRUMPF exhibition area, every system and sales representative were immediately engaged in discussions. The same held true at many other exhibits I could see from my perch.<br /><br />At the end of the first two days, exhibitors had all met or exceeded past show records, and many were posting sold signs on the equipment on display. Several major exhibitors told me about sales consummated at the show. For example Burke Doar, VP Sales of TRUMPF Inc. said the 12 units booked on the first day was in-line with good show records of the past.<br /><br />So I set off to ask all the major industrial laser system exhibitors their show experience and their impression of the current year's sales and prospects for 2012. Exhibitor after exhibitor praised the show; expected to have a good, great or record sales year; and looked forward to a continued good, but not great 2012.<br /><br />These opinions were backed up by solid facts on the strength of key markets: agricultural and heavy equipment, aerospace, transportation and energy. Asked about the fabricated metal job shop sector, most were equally positive about it, even though it has been feeling the pinch of tight bank lending policies which has required some creative financial arrangements on the part of the equipment sellers. <br /><br />The companies that participate in the annual market survey I conduct all modified the conservative estimates they made at the beginning of the year. It looks like the North American sheet metal system sales for 2011 will be about 725 units, a number equal to the very good pre-recession year of 2001.<br /><br /><br />So how to explain this excellent performance of the laser cutting system suppliers in light of all the negative media comments on the state of manufacturing in North America? I received a number of explanations, but the one that seemed most factual was that the industries served by laser cutting systems were not experiencing market problems, and buyers of capital equipment had the resources to expand their business, even in what seems to be a shaky economy. Yes, I heard that some buying decisions were made after long deliberations, but in the end these buyers were betting that the manufacturing market had a positive future.<br /><br />Fabtech 2011 was a great show. As this was being written we still had not received the official show attendance figures. Exhibitors left with good feelings about near-term prospects, and visitors were upbeat about their business prospects. Counter to prevailing sentiment among the economists, yes, but I could not find weaknesses in the market forecasts we heard.<br /><br />Posted by David, more international than evernoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteThis comment on the recent ICALEO held in Orlando is being written rather tardily as I am just now recovering from the 7-day power outage in my area brought on by the ravages of what is now being called THE October Northeaster, not with any fondness.<br /><br />ICALEO 2011 was, judging by attendee comments, a very successful event, with 523 registered for the Congress with 51% coming from the US. Attendance was up 12.5% from last year's event in Anaheim. 262 papers and posters were presented in several concurrent sessions, a decrease of 6%over last year. Of the papers presented 82% were by international authors, a situation that caused considerable talk among long-time attendees. Some Program Committee members attribute the limited papers from the U.S to restrictive non-disclosure arrangements imposed by US research sponsors preventing this work from being shared.<br /><br />On the other hand, ICALEO is as, the name says, international, and the organizers, the Laser Institute of America, has become an international society, so a diverse membership and subsequent diversity in conference presenters is a natural consequence.<br /><br />Five ILS Editorial Advisors attended this year's event along with me, which made coverage of concurrent sessions and the micro (LMF) and macro (LMP) conferences easier. Their thoughts are incorporated in this conference perspective.<br /><br />The large discrepancy in paper sources is seen as both a plus and minus, with one advisor commenting that a large number of papers from Germany was "a delight," while another remarked that only 18% of papers were US-originated and that some of these were from authors working for foreign companies. The two conference program committees were actually about evenly split in terms of domestic versus international membership so one can’t find obvious prejudice in author selections with them.<br /><br />Several advisors sensed the lack of US papers and assigned the blame, in part, on the US government, which, as one said, "has never been able to devise and implement a complex action plan to support industrial research." Another noted that, "Someone needs to lead a credible lobbying effort to find federal funding to help US companies apply laser technology to compete with similar efforts in Europe."<br /><br />To most observers, this year's ICALEO was slanted toward solid-state laser applications with fiber and disc lasers making up two-thirds of the macro (LMP) sessions, of which 2/3rds were fiber related and 1/3rd disc. The papers featuring disc lasers were mostly from Germany and the ratio of fiber to disc was 3:1. In the micro (LMF) conference, 40% of the papers featured ultra-fast pulse (ps and fs) laser applications and the remainder were ns lasers (36%) and long pulse (24%).<br /><br />The conclusion one can draw from the preponderance of solid-state applications in the papers would be that most of the advanced laser material processing work being done today is with these lasers as opposed to the CO2 laser, which, while being used in more mature applications, commercially dominates annual sales: about 50% of 2011 revenues.<br /><br />ILS picked up on this trend several years ago and has been featuring applications with fiber, disc, and UFP lasers in many issues.<br /><br />, weather outside is frightfulnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteIn this spot was intended to be a report on ICALEO 2011 by the <em>Industrial Laser Solutions</em> Editorial Advisors and me, but Mother Nature played a dirty trick on most of southern New England. She dropped an historic, for October, snowfall (12-18 inches) that coated the fully-leaved trees, causing severe damage to the trees and subsequently to the power lines. This is being written from my car, where I have cruised central Massachusetts looking for WiFi to connect with.<br /><br />So just a brief note to say power is off, but when it returns, a full report on ICALEO will be, from Japannoemail@noemail.orgDavid Belforte<p>I've been reviewing this year's Shimpo report, &quot;2011/2012 Japan Laser World and Trend,&quot; which is a task made more difficult as it is published in Japanese, a language I have yet to master after more than 30 years of travel to that country. Over the years, friends and associates have translated the many tables and charts in the reports so that I can at least recognize certain repetitive characters, allowing me to follow trends years after year.<br> <br> This year’s report adjusted the FY 09 results, as estimated last year, to a 10-year low for high power CO2 laser sheet metal cutting systems. And because of this low number estimate, the FY10 production would be increased 23%. This is a consequential growth rate as it means an additional $210 million or more units will be shipped. For FY11, the laser system suppliers are predicting a 26% growth which, if accomplished, will raise the Japanese production of flat sheet <a href="">cutters</a> to at least $1.4 billion, or more than 50% of the world total.<br> <br> The recession apparently affected the production of laser micro-via drillers more than I had anticipated, with an 89% increase in units shipped in FY10 and a projected 59% increase in FY11 shipments. Micro-via <a href="">drilling</a> is one of the bright market sectors in Japan’s laser industry.<br> <br> <a href="">Laser marking</a>, a usually dependable double-digit-growth rate application, also took a recessionary beating in Japan with shipments dropping 20% in FY09, but recovering nicely in FY10, up more than 60%. However, forecasts for FY12 are for single digit growth. The solid-state laser market dropped 27% in FY09, rallied 8% in FY10 and is expected to grow 34% in FY11 and 12% in FY12.<br> <br> What does all this mean? I was ruminating on the role Japan’s industrial laser and system suppliers were playing in today’s global markets for these products. While these suppliers do not seem to be at the cutting edge of laser technology as they were in the glory days of the 90s when innovations were springing from research laboratories and system developments were common at all the trade shows, survivors of the extended economic decline in Japan have carved out niches that their well-engineered products can sell into growing markets in Asia, North and South America, and to some extent in Europe. The <a href="" target="_blank">Shimpo</a>&nbsp;report is encouraging about the industry’s recovery from the global recession and another year of sustained albeit reduced growth is in the cards.</p> <p>Dow Jones reports that the Japanese government has stated that: the pace of recovery from the March disaster has slowed; the global slowdown has affected exports and production; energy constraints still chaff; and the strong yen continues to be a headache. Even so, the government says the economy is still picking up, even though the pace has slowed mainly due to the Great East Japan Earthquake's effects, which still persist.<br> <br> On a more personal note, I have learned that one of the pockets of radiation measured away from the disaster area was found in Yokohama, where I spent a week. Each night I ask my wife if I am glowing green.<br> <br> </p> <div class="blogger-post-footer"><img src="" width="1" height="1"></div>, Japan, the sun also risesnoemail@noemail.orgDavid BelforteI arrived in Tokyo two weeks ago to find a country recovering from the most recent of two major coastal typhoons that added to the already lingering after-effects of a serious earthquake and the resulting tsunami that devastated the country's power supply.<br /><br />My visit was centered on Yokahama, the largest port, which did not experience any direct damage but like all of the Kant? Plains area was still under tight government restrictions on power usage. To a guest at a first-class hotel, the only visible signs of any problems were a raised air conditioning temperature and the lowering of lighting in public spaces. I am sure that behind the scenes of a well-run hotel, the problems were greater, but they managed to keep these from affecting guests. <br /><br />At the Pan-Pacific Exhibition complex, the same power requirements were also in place and other than a slightly discomforting higher temperature in the halls and conference rooms one would not know that the country was in a recovery mode. The most visable tip-off was the general absence of ties worn by visitors, a distincly non-Japanese dress mode occasioned by the working envirornment temperatures.<br /><br />I came here to partcipate and speak at LaserTech 2011, one of four co-located exhibits featuring complementary laser technology and products. The organizers said they came close to 12,000 attendees, exceeding their forecasted 10,000. Was this a sign that the Japanese economy was taking an upward turn after years of being depressed? It&rsquo;s hard to say as this was very much a domestic show with all exhibits signs in Japanese, and for the most part, exhibits were staffed by Japanese-speaking marketing and sales people so surveys of exhibitor satisfaction were hard to obtain. I judged the continuous activity at exhibits adjacent to mine as an indication that business prospects among the attendees were good.<br /><br />One of my goals on this trip was to learn how Japanese suppliers of industrial laser products survived years of stagnation and the recent disasters. I spoke with managers and officers of both large and small companies and found that their attitude, at least to Westerners, was upbeat. An interesting twist was that the severe goverment restrictions on power usage and the crushing economic climate had caused companies to dramaticaly change their operating procedures. And now that restrictions were easing and the economy was turning up, these same companies intended to keep in place many of the changes forced on them to become, as a result, an even leaner, tighter operating entity. Basically they said they learned they could operate comfortably with reduced energy and other restrictions. As one CEO said to me, "It was a tough learning experience."<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, to The Rising Sun for answersnoemail@noemail.orgWRITER FIREI'm preparing for a trip to Japan next week where I will be presenting my mid-year report on the industrial laser marketplace. Because my PowerPoint slides will be shown in Japanese, they were submitted for translation several weeks ago, and therein lies a conundrum- present what I had prepared or, because the market seems to be leaning more towards a slow-down, extemporize – possibly causing the simultaneous translator a migraine.<br /><br />For months I have reported the strength of the markets served by industrial lasers and touted their ability to overcome downward adjustments that all the experts were predicting. And I still believe this, even though daily news shows softness developing in some of the market stalwarts that have kept sales and revenues at a high level.<br /><br />At this point in time, the laser system supplier’s books are, for the most part, full for 2011, with backlogs in place into the early weeks of 2012. By all accounts these orders seem secure and I have yet to hear of concerns about cancellations or shipment delays.<br /><br />My colleague, Dr. Tom Hausken of Strafegies Unlimited, reports that a round of recent West Coast corporate interviews confirmed the "jobless recovery" scenario, seemed to show some market uncertainties and expected flat sales for 2012. Tom and I share a lot of data and therefore I tend to listen more attentively to what he says, even though we have been known to object to each other's conclusions at times. So I'll file away his notes for consideration as I start my 2011 annual report in November.<br /><br />One thing I intend to discuss with executives of Japanese companies I will meet with next week is how they survived the recent 10 year economic stagnation in Japan. The idea of a similar situation in the U.S. has been floated by some economists and I intend to see how such an occurrence might impact the dynamic laser market.<br /><br />Stay tuned for my Japan report in a couple of weeks.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, 27 years of editing Industrial Laser Solutions, it was inevitable that I would make a significant error, since one of magnitude had never been made previously. I should qualify that &mdash; once we published an issue with the cover image upside down. This was never noticed by readers, perhaps because the subject was five-axis laser cutting and the photo looked like it could be a multi-axis machine.<br /><br />The error I refer to was in a News item posted on the ILS home page, referencing exhibitor comments about the upcoming trade show LaserTech India 2011. Inadvertently, by my mistake, their comments were attributed to another trade show, Laser India 2011, which will be held a few weeks later. Complicating this was the fact that ILS is a media partner of this trade show; ironically, the original News posting was done because ILS supports all events that promote the industrial laser technology, regardless of affiliations.<br /><br />The error might have been noticed by one of our staff and corrected if it had not been for two mitigating factors. First, our offices were powerless, as was most of our geographic region from the effects of the powerful hurricane Irene. Secondly, the timing of a potential error notice was poor because our offices were closed for the long holiday weekend, and our staff was widely scattered, enjoying the last holiday before schools reopened.<br /><br />Thus the error was called to my attention by e-mails from the principals of the two trade shows, an unfortunate situation because affected parties seek immediate relief. To make matters worse, the battery in my laptop gave out while I was driving around in my car to find some free Wi-Fi, so I was unable to respond to the e-mails until power was restored at the time our offices were closed.<br /><br />With some assistance from an obliging company IT person on his holiday, a short corrective News notice was posted followed by a corrected rewording of the first notice that was intended to set the record straight. The offended parties were generally understanding about the unintended error and mostly mollified by my suggestions for ongoing corrective actions.<br /><br />The object lesson for this embarrassing imbroglio: check and recheck your facts, just like the saying, "measure twice and cut once". Also, have a plan for quick response after catastrophes strike.<br /><br /><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, glass is still half fullnoemail@noemail.orgzapperAs this is being written, turmoil in the global markets caused by a downgrading of the US credit rating by Standard & Poor&rsquo;s has Wall Street and other financial centers in a panic. Our befuddled leadership in Washington is busy pointing fingers of guilt at each other or chortling as the political fallout may likely fulfill their wish for a one-term presidency. Meanwhile, the elected representatives have taken a five-week hiatus while Rome burns, except for the Republican presidential hopefuls who are being fed so much fodder by a summer-bored media that they are falling all over each other competing for one last vote in Iowa. <br /> <br />Lost in all this is the impetus of the President's bullish stance on revitalizing the health of the manufacturing industry. It was just another mouthful of words that rings hollow as it is now obvious he doesn&rsquo;t have the political wherewithal to move anything through a divided Congress that senses blood. <br /> <br />This, the 100th in this series of blogs, was originally planned to be a celebration of the good news emanating from the major public corporations that have just reported their latest quarter financials and the powerful news from industry leader TRUMPF whose 2010/11 preliminary figures were nothing short of spectacular: sales up 51% from the second-highest ever sales and bookings for 2010/11 at € 2.22 billion. <br /> <br />However, it is now a blog about the facts. Yes, we have heard the rumblings of concern within the global manufacturing economy, causing us to look more and more like a male version of Little Mary Sunshine; make note of my sensitivity on this subject. <br /> <br />And here are the facts: the manufacturing sectors that use industrial lasers are not those that are directly affected by a rise in the interest rates, such as the housing industry. Those that are driving the good news reported in the guidance issued by the public laser product suppliers are the aerospace industry, which is locked into long term contracts for new aircraft (and engine) deliveries for the next five years; the alternate energy industry where solar -rich countries are finally pushing photovoltaic installations instead of the nuclear options that were already on the drawing boards; the medical devices suppliers that are experiencing a global surge in preventative medical treatment; the microelectronics industry which cannot seem to fully satisfy the volume of laser drilled micro-substrates; the alternate energy vehicle suppliers whose order books are full of battery-operated vehicles even as the President gave the industry a &ldquo;kiss-of-death&rdquo; with his proclamation for doubled gas mileage regulations (try selling this one Mr. Obama); and a booming product marking sector that is sold on laser-generated 2D barcodes both for regulatory and inventory purposes <br /> <br />These are real, growing markets that will sustain the laser business for the rest of this year and well into the next. Yes, I hear the groundswell of support for a second recession that could wipe out these markets, and I am enough of a pragmatist to believe that this scenario is stronger today than six months ago when I poo-pooed the idea. But, as far as the industrial laser business goes, I see the glass of water as half full. And if I am wrong, it really won&rsquo;t matter, as we will all go down in flames this time around because no amount of water will quench the global fire. <br /><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, its summernoemail@noemail.orgzapperTwo "hot" news items have crossed my desk in the last few days, both by coincidence related to news from Germany: one on a positive economic note and the other not. <br /><br />TRUMPF, the leader in the industrial laser products market, reported a 51% increase in 2010/11 fiscal year sales, with 2.025 billion Euros compared to last year's sales of 1.340 billion Euros. This is the second highest revenue year, only topped by 2007/08 with 2.144 billion Euros. However, bookings were 2.22 billion Euros, topping the 2.15 billion Euros booked in 2007/08. And the frosting on the cake is that profits last year are expected to hit triple digits in the millions, and the company will need to add another 500 jobs worldwide.<br /><br />The less than auspicious news is that the mighty German manufacturing engine is sputtering, according to two closely watched indices, the Ifo and ZEW monthly reports. Both reports were negative, with analysts titch-titching that &ldquo;Expectations are clearly weakening.&rdquo; The blame rests on, of all things, three problems: the budget impasse in the US, a slowdown in the expanding Chinese market, and a drop in German consumer spending. Where have we heard this before?<br /><br />We are not supposed to get overheated in these &ldquo;dog days&rdquo; of summer, the weather forecasters remind us, but most of the US has been posting record high temperatures the past few weeks, thereby driving up our personal heat indices. So I think I&rsquo;ll head for the lake for a few days to cool off and to savor the great news from TRUMPF and ignore the not-so-good news from the manufacturing front. Relaxation is what summer is made for.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, redundant by the Web - againnoemail@noemail.orgzapperIt was a Friday afternoon and the sales team, winding down a three day corporate sales meeting, restively awaited the final speaker, me. Heavy early weekend traffic slowed down my arrival and had me in a bit of a funk as I breathlessly arrived 30 minutes late.<br /><br />I should have taken a short break to catch my breath, but recognizing that I had three dozen sales people ready to head home for the weekend, I proceeded to deliver what was supposed to be a positive state-of-the-market rouser guaranteed to have these reps outperform their monthly quotas.<br /><br />Normally, I open such presentations on a light note with a laugh-generating anecdote. I don&rsquo;t know what possessed me, except the lack of energy after a hard week of travel, but my opening remark was: &ldquo;I&rsquo;m glad I had this opportunity to meet with you today, because next year most of you will be gone, as the era of the machine tool salesman is over.&rdquo;<br /><br />Nervous laughter broke out as I continued, &ldquo;Yes, most of you will be redundant, made so by the power of the Internet.&rdquo; Now, sensing that I was not joking, I was bombarded by objections and then questions about my premise, which in essence was, buyers will get their machine information off the Web, analyze it and make a buying decision without your influence. The general objection was that the Web could not sell a machine tool. My counter was, people already buy their new cars off the Web, and many car dealers have an internal Web salesman just for that purpose.<br /><br />These sales guys still thought I was joking, and I managed to leave on rather tenuous grounds, with a parting shot from the sales manger: &ldquo;That will be the day,&rdquo; he growled.<br /><br />A few short years later, that day has arrived.<br /><br />In his new book, Selling Change, 101+ Secrets for Growing Sales by Leading Change <a href="http://http//">http://</a>, Brett Clay says, &ldquo;The trends of globalization and Internet empowered buyers are devaluing the roles traditionally filled by salespeople - to provide product information and take orders.&rdquo;<br /><br />In case you haven&rsquo;t had the occasion to shop for a new machine tool on the Internet, trust me all you need to know is out there in Cyberspace. Retrieving this information is getting even easier as potential buyers realize the power of the Web and learn how to make it work for them. The marketplace has changed and, like others made inconsequential by the power of the Web, the salesman's denial was short lived.<br /><br />I had occasion to see the sales manager of that company I spoke to, at a recent trade show, where he walked the floor as an independent sales rep. I was surprised when he went out of his way to greet me, thinking that he probably never forgave me for what I said. Instead, the subject never came up even though he told me he had recently been made redundant. I was glad we were still friends and I knew that his remaining productive years would not be bitter ones.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, who servenoemail@noemail.orgzapperIn the United States of America, we pause on the Fourth of July, more properly called Independence Day, to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, declaring our independence from Great Britain in 1776. This is the most patriotic day in the year, celebrated throughout the 50 states with the showing of the national flag.<br /><br />This is a national holiday that fortuitously this year occurs on Monday so that the country enjoys a long weekend at the beginning of the summer. By tradition. it is a patriotic day, during which we experience outdoor activities, parades, concerts, political speeches rife with overblown patriotism, family food fests and above all fireworks.<br /><br />Typically we Americans are not flag wavers unless we are rallying around some event that stirs repressed patriotism. Currently, we are showing support for our armed forces, fighting 2 &Acirc;&frac12; wars in the Mideast, while many at home complain about the high gasoline prices this causes.<br /><br />I served the USA on active duty and reserve status and took advantage of veteran’s benefits that covered my education and assisted me in buying a home. I’m one of those Army veterans whose records were destroyed in a fire at the St. Louis National Personnel Center. The US Congress amended a law and appropriated funds to rebuild the destroyed files, which are the only official record of my, and tens of thousands of others, military service.<br /><br />In the doing, over the past few months, I have been supplying the government with documentation that will partially restore my official records. As a consequence, a few weeks ago I was notified that medals for which I had been recommended were going to be sent to me. This is a little late, you may say, but then they are service medals, not medals for valor or meritorious service, so they had never been a priority.<br /><br />But it’s now the Fourth of July and on the town common a patriotic concert will be held, the conclusion of which will be a medley of marches to honor those who served the country. This year I will stand with other Army veterans, proudly wearing the ribbons that denote my service as they play “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” <br /><br />That’s it, my once a year concession to personal patriotism. Actually, I stand to honor those who can’t be here and who are serving the country on our behalf. I know what they are experiencing from my own similar situation when I served. We were asked to serve and did; that's the best that can be said on the Fourth of July.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, employees are not happynoemail@noemail.orgzapperGuess what? According to <a href="" target="_blank">Industry Week</a>, in a survey by Mercer <a href=""></a>, it was found that, &ldquo;diminished loyalty and widespread apathy can undermine business performance, particularly as companies increasingly look to their workforces to drive productivity gains and spur innovation.&rdquo; Mercer&rsquo;s Mindy Fox says, &ldquo;The business consequences of this erosion in employee sentiment is significant, and clearly the issue goes far beyond retention.&rdquo;<br /><br />Why? In Mercer's survey of the last two quarters, the company found that 32% of workers are seriously considering leaving their companies, and 21% of those staying view their employers unfavorably and show a very low score on loyalty, commitment, and motivation.<br /><br />Well duh! We just survived the worst recession since the 30s and those who remain employed are still reeling from the impact on their jobs, with many living in dread of the pink slip that will add them to the 9% looking for work today. Meanwhile their workload has increased again, and again, under the threat of a pink slip if they should balk; consequently, their work may be shoddy and unfinished. And the media are touting a double-dip recession. It takes a special kind of employee to come into many companies smiling on a Monday morning.<br /><br />Other Mercer findings:<br /><br />- Only 43% of employees believe they are doing enough to financially prepare for retirement and just 41% believe their employers are doing enough to help them prepare.<br />- Just 68% of employees rate their overall benefits program as good or very good.<br />- Just 42% of employees agree that promotions go to the most qualified employees in their organization.<br />- Among the youngest workers, 40% of employees age 25&ndash;34 are most likely looking to depart.<br /><br />You may recall the story of Damocles and Dionysius where the latter offers the former a trial as ruler to enjoy all the perceived fruits of this position. And so doing, Damocles looks up and sees a sharp sword suspended over his head. Supposedly, when queried about the threat, Dionysus makes it clear that, as a ruler, there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear always looms<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, big noise may be a little indigestionnoemail@noemail.orgzapperWhat is this, a conspiracy? No sooner did I return from Munich, where <a href="http://http//">optimism on global economics reigned supreme, then </a>I began to hear that old bugaboo: double-dip recession. The one not-so-positive Manufacturing Index report after a string of upbeat months caused the scare birds hit the media. This, of course, was fodder for the announced and soon-to-announce presidential candidates, quadrupling the noise.<br /><br />As the days went by, the recession drumbeat grew louder as employment news was less than stellar, and it didn&rsquo;t help that the President was wishy-washy speaking? about the economy on Tuesday.<br /><br />All I have to say is: Thanks, guys. I spent a week in Munich at Laser World of Photonics singing the praises of recovery in the manufacturing community and bragging about the performance of the industrial laser leaders who were on a tear revenue-wise. The dozens of companies I interviewed in Munich, for the most part, supported my optimism, and I only heard a few concerns about how the US housing market would hamper further growth.<br /><br />So here I am three weeks prior to my Mid Year Report on the Global Laser Marketplace and I&rsquo;m having second thoughts about my PowerPoint slides. Come on, guys, cut me some slack and at least let me make it past the 30th before I have to retract my <a href="http://http//">glowing forecast </a>for the remainder of 2011. Especially you, <a href="http://http//">Mr. Bernanke</a>. You have been, self-admittedly, wrong before; are you sure your gloom is couched in reality?<br /><br />When queried about my optimistic forecast at a meeting last week, I stated that I could not see any reason why US manufacturing couldn&rsquo;t weather a little negative news. Foreign exchange rates make exporting a joy here in the States and businesses are expanding with caution so they haven&rsquo;t overloaded payrolls, and what they are selling is wanted everywhere in the world. So maybe we have a little indigestion, but it's nothing a good burp can&rsquo;t handle.<br /><br />Finally, thanks for the many concerns received from friends and acquaintances, near and far, concerning my status after the EF3 tornado cut a &frac14; mile swath through Sturbridge. We did not experience any damage to our house even though the storm passed less than a mile away, spawning several random microburst&rsquo;s, one about a 1000 yards from my house. Thirty-nine miles of South Central Massachusetts from Springfield to Charlton took a devastating beating, but we are all rallying to help the recovery in that good old Yankee community spirit.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, industrial laser springnoemail@noemail.orgzapperWhy do most people seem to need external reinforcement of situations they have already evaluated? Over the past two weeks, two events, EASTEC 2011 in the U.S. and <a href="http://http//">Laser World of Photonics in Munich</a>, put the seal of approval on the roaring recovery in the industrial laser market. No longer is it a wish; it is a full blown phenomenon.<br /><br />At EASTEC, a regional manufacturing trade show which has become a must-do for makers of <a href="http://http//">laser marking and engraving systems</a>, about two dozen companies showed their products, many new to market, to a crowd of 11,000 Northeast manufacturers who braved three days of rain to scurry between five halls at windy West Springfield fairgrounds.<br /><br />The common thread this observer picked up was that suppliers were dancing on the grave of the recent recession. Not only was it dead and buried, it&rsquo;s ugly memory was almost erased as the industrial laser market is booming with record sales and bookings, and the future looks very bright for continuing good business at pre-recession levels.<br /><br />Four thousand miles and a week apart, the good burghers of Munich welcomed a record crowd to this year's renewal of the biennial event. We knew that this one would be different when on opening day, which traditionally does not attract German visitors in large numbers, crowds entered the halls as the opening bell rang, a pattern that was in effect for three of the four show days. As the closing bell sounded. more than 27,500 visitors, an 8% rise over 2009, had pushed through the turnstiles.<br /><br />What they saw was one of the most powerful displays of innovative industrial laser technology in the two Production halls of the six hall show. Product suppliers had used the recession to advantage, marshalling their reduced work force to focus on new products to introduce to a post-recession market.<br /><br />On top of this, the German VDMA announced a 57% increase in industrial laser sales over 2009. But more exciting was the 2010 order intake of German companies: 90% over 2009 and within 25% of the record year of 2007, which looks to be reachable in 2012, a year and a half ahead of the industry consensus schedule<br /><br />The more than 3200 attendees at the concurrent World of Photonics Congress heard hundreds of papers on the new applications, such as <a href="http://http//">ultra-fast laser processing</a>, that will be using the new products shown at the show. Topping it off, if you are a German supplier, was the Federal Ministry of Education and Research's announcement at this trade fair of itsone-billion Euro, ten-year investment to promote photonics research and development. Line up at the trough, guys.<br /><br />Euphoria was the rule as personnel from over 1100 exhibitors made their way home from this -- the most successful ever -- Munich Show, The consensus of exhibitors and attendees was that business is great and will continue for the next 12 months.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, World buzz: Phenomenal growthnoemail@noemail.orgWRITER FIREAfter two days here at Laser World of Photonics in Munich, it is clear that the laser business, especially the <a href="">industrial laser </a>sector, is having a great year globally and is <a href="">recovering nicely </a>from the recession which had left a lot of companies shaken about the future.<br /><br />The <a href="">VDMA</a>, the organization that represents the machine tool industry, reports that orders received for new laser equipment in 2010 surpassed the record set in 2008. This suggests that laser revenues for 2011 may be able to exceed the record year of 2007.<br /><br />Germany thrives on industrial laser and system exports, primairly to Southeast Asia (17%) including India. When shipments to Japan are factored in, Asia represents 23% of German exports. This is expected to drive their laser markets for the coming year or two.<br /><br />Most of the buzz in the halls is about the phenomenal growth of the industrial laser market last year and this. Companies are projecting growth percentages from 35 to 65%, with bookings guaranteeing a record year for many.<br /><br />Euphoria compared to two years ago reigns supreme amongst the hundreds of exhibitors here. You can confirm this by observing the show crowds filling the Munich beer gardens at night. I can vouch for this as I made an exhaustive survey.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, marking leads the manufacturing recoverynoemail@noemail.orgzapperThis week, for the 35th time, Eastec - the East Coast&rsquo;s largest annual manufacturing event - was held in West Springfield, Mass. The show's organizer, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, was concerned that an entire week of rain and chilly weather would hold the expected attendance of 11,000 down, but this was allayed as cars started filling the parking spaces early on Tuesday and continued for the first two days.<br /><br />This was the first Eastec since the recession turned the corner and the US manufacturing economy started its <a href="">remarkable recovery</a>. New England has responded more slowly than the national average, but you wouldn&rsquo;t know it from the crowded aisles in the five show halls that featured over 900 exhibitors.<br /><br />I attended because Eastec is a showplace for industrial laser systems exhibitors, especially those with <a href="http://laser%20welding%20laser%20drilling/">laser marking </a>equipment, of which I counted 24 companies showing markers powered by: fiber, solid-state, CO2,and diode lasers. Other suppliers showed <a href="http://http//">laser welding</a>, <a href="http://http//">cladding</a>, and <a href="http://http//">microprocessing </a>equipment.<br /><br />I spoke at length with representatives of more than half the laser exhibitors and received almost uniform consensus that business had turned around during 2010 and that growth was continuing, for <a href="http://http//">some at a record pace, into 2011</a>. And the laser systems exhibitors, even those experiencing modest growth, were optimistic that 2011 would be a good year for their business.<br /><br />Admittedly my survey was heavy with marking system suppliers, an industrial laser segment that historically has experienced double digit growth every year but one. Laser marking applications cut across the entire manufacturing sector so, in that respect, its success this year may be a stronger indication of the overall health of the manufacturing economy here in the US.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, educational turf wars to foster skilled workersnoemail@noemail.orgzapperIn an article entitled, "Help Wanted on the Factory Floor," by James R. Hagerty, appearing May 6th on the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, the author cites three factors that are causing the shortage of factory floor workers in the US. First is the remarkable growth in employment numbers for the last seven months. In seeming contrast to all the gloom and doom on the unemployment front for the past few years, US companies roared out of the recession, loaded for bear with a lean manufacturing team. Nice scenario, but they got caught in a dilemma as orders rolled in at an unexpected pace, which these companies were unprepared to handle with current staffing.<br /><br />The second factor, baby boomer retirements, is starting to impact companies as their most experienced and productive workers are opting out for the &ldquo;good&rdquo; life. Hagerty says 25% of US manufacturing workers are 55 or older.<br /><br />And finally, he, like many others, faults the US education systems for neglecting to nurture the skills that modern factory jobs require: math, science, and computer programming.<br /><br />Of these factors, one, education, could have been corrected years ago. Job growth in the industrial market is a phenomenon. After two decades of reductions in factory employment, the US lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs that will never be offset by employment blips such at we are now experiencing. Just drive around Michigan if you need an object lesson.<br /><br /> Yes, the baby boomer retirements on top of this will make manufacturing a bright spot on the employment scene, but this is not the cause for the lack of employable young people in what is left of the US manufacturing base.<br /><br />I personally have been involved with the &ldquo;technical education&rdquo; problem for several decades. I got involved with a southern state educational system as it moved to lay a base for trained technical workers to serve relocating industry. And as president of the Laser Institute of America, I dedicated my term to fostering support of the nation&rsquo;s secondary schools offering laser processing curricula. And I was enmeshed in a political tug-of-war at a state university that missed an opportunity to become a leader in industrial laser material processing education. There, I ran into one of the most hierarchal and entrenched groups: professional educational administrators. <br /><br />In this example, as the department head I was advising struggled with an academic turf war, I used to ask, &ldquo;Who is representing the students in these discussions?&rdquo; It got so bad that when he and I went to the faculty club for lunch, we were made to wait or if we were lucky, we were led to a table near the kitchen door.<br /><br />After years of observing how other countries approached the same educational situation, I remain more convinced that we here in the US talk a good game but rarely follow through with positive action. I have heard and read about the same problems finding trained skilled employees for decades and Hagerty&rsquo;s examples could have applied 30 years ago.It&rsquo;s great to acknowledge a problem in our educational systems but when solutions are bogged down by internal territorial protection policies, then we should address that problem first.<br /><br />I am very impressed with the community college programs I have witnessed in the states that are attracting new industry. Administrators at these colleges, backed by state educational programs, are tuned into the needs of local industry and follow through by initiating new programs to supply the needed employees. I have met several enlightened and committed administrators of these programs who place students first. It's one bright light I see to alleviate the lack of skilled employees.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the industrial laser marketnoemail@noemail.orgzapperI&rsquo;ve been looking at the most recent fiscal year quarterly reports from companies in the Industrial Laser Solutions financial database because I was curious to see if a statement I have made a number of times is correct. The statement refers to companies pushing every last order out the door on the last day of their fiscal year so that annual sales were shown most favorably.<br /><br />I averaged out the published results from a dozen leading suppliers of industrial lasers, laser systems, and related products and found two interesting facts: one related to the statement and the other confirming that the economy in the industrial laser sector was greatly improved.<br /><br />On average the surveyed companies showed a modest single digit growth in revenues in the first quarter of FY11 compared to the last quarter of the previous fiscal year. Not surprising I guess, confirming my statement. I also noted that the last quarter of FY10 easily outperformed the previous three quarters.<br /><br />At first I was a little disappointed in the numbers for the start of the new fiscal year, until I considered that fourth quarter FY10 was for many companies a record quarter, with some companies enjoying a 50% growth in revenues over the year coming out of the recession. Thus, a modest single digit growth on top of record revenues meant that FY11 was starting off with a bang.<br /><br />On another matter, the Laser Institute of America's Northeast Regional meeting, held last week in Nashua, NH, focused on <a href="http://http//">ultra-fast laser processing </a>of industrial material. With a modest promotion, this event drew a record attendance with more than 80 members and non-members showing up, including some from the West Coast, who arranged their travel to include this event.<br /><br />What drew this audience? For starters, four speakers form the laser supplier industry presented their products in a wide range of material processing applications, much to the surprise of many in the audience who were unaware of the rapid strides being made in the UFP technology. Led by the organizer and moderator Ron Schaeffer (Photomachining Inc.), presenters Bill Clark (Clark MXR), Mike Armas (Raydiance), Sid Wright (RPMC Lasers), and Paul Graham (TRUMPF) made a strong case for impressive sales growth over the coming years.<br /><br />Even those familiar with this progress were impressed by the inroads these lasers are making into the industrial marketplace. And those of us who are always looking for the next big market push may have found it in the new applications that had, until now, not been laser capable.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the * is going on here?noemail@noemail.orgzapperThe world's oldest marathon(115 years), the Boston Marathon, produced a new world record for the men&rsquo;s winning time and almost did the same for the women. A mild day on Monday with a rather strong and gusty wind at the runners' backs helped them to phenomenal times this year. Unfortunately, an archaic marathon regulation dealing with the total drop in altitude over the course, from start to finish, which should be 150 feet instead of Boston's approximately 300 feet, prohibits this record from being officially world class. But as my neighbor, a four time Boston runner said, &ldquo;Try telling the runners that the Boston isn&rsquo;t tough.&rdquo; Reports are that the winning time, a world record, will be accompanied by an asterisk.<br /><br />This week is bringing to our attention the early first quarter reports from the public companies and, as expected from the comments we have received over the past three months, activity in the industrial laser sector continues its last quarter of 2010 performance. This alone is noteworthy because the end of the year, as mentioned in earlier <a href="http://http//">columns</a>, is a &ldquo;clear the house&rdquo; time at companies anxious to pump up <a href="http://http//">annual revenues</a>. So when 1Q11 numbers exceed 4Q10 numbers, you know that the market conditions are excellent, or as they say in the wine business, it has legs.<br /><br />This is not in ignorance of the situation in Japan, as cited <a href="http://http//">earlier</a>, as those numbers are not available yet, but will obviously be seriously impacted by the reduced production schedules being experienced by most Japanese manufacturers. We are eagerly awaiting these numbers as we are now preparing a revised 2010 report and a new 2011 forecast to be presented in June on an ILS Webcast. But as we have stated earlier, any drag on the global economy should be noted with an asterisk as it is not a reflection on the market but on the result of the disaster in Japan.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, not so unusual any morenoemail@noemail.orgzapperThe news early this week is more pessimistic than optimistic, but not enough to cause any media newsbreaks. Stalemates in Afghanistan and Libya, one step forward and one back in Fukushima, and the U.S. Congress kept the government from shutting down, just as most of us knew they would after a lot of posturing.<br /><br />On a much smaller scale than these events, business in the industrial laser sector is great, sort of contrary to all the dull international and national news. China&rsquo;s trade balance went negative, ho hum, in sectors not impacting laser sales. Yes, Japan has yet to get their industries perking again and that&rsquo;s not good, but not news. Industry in the U.S. and Europe are still on an upward arc, even though the latter is coping with a bailout in Portugal.<br /><br />So the past weekend was peaceful and quiet except for the concern for the Red Sox losing streak; two out of three wins over the Yankees ended that. So my only temporary concern was for the poor golfer who blew a 12 stroke lead in the Masters and plunged out of site on the scoreboard. With a gaggle of very good golfers in the hunt at the end, his disappearance went unnoticed.<br /><br />Do you ever get the feeling that things are too stable and that something will upset the quiet this week? I&rsquo;ll be participating in SALA, the Symposium for Advanced Laser Applications, where among my duties I have the pleasure of hosting the Innovation Award for Laser Applications in Manufacturing Operations. I haven&rsquo;t seen the acceptance speech by the awardee, Dr. Marshall Jones from GE, but I hope that he will mention the impact that the laser technology he championed had on GE to make it more productive and competitive. Because this is typical of what pulled U.S. manufacturing out of the recession so rapidly, manufacturers here are the most productive among industrialized nations. <br /><br />Here productivity equates to automation and automation is almost connected to the word laser. For the first decade of this technology, equipment sellers were hesitant to use the word automation, as it raised warning signal with unions. Then, as the threat of automation on the job market seemed to disappear, global competiveness made it an antidote for low labor cost competition.<br /><br />Laser fit nicely into automation systems, and low operating cost and maintenance free operation make them attractive for multi-shift operations.<br /><br />One aspect that I think has helped is that the mystique of the laser has all but disappeared as tens of thousands of units are operating around the world, many in plants where they are no longer considered unusual. And that is a good thing.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, nuclear fallout in the laser marketnoemail@noemail.orgzapperI’m getting more concerned about the nuclear accident situation in Japan than I was when I wrote<a href="http://http//"> last week’s blog</a>. At that point I could envision a sooner rather than later return to normalcy at Fukushima, but now, as this is written, it’s beginning to look more like Chernobyl. <br /><br />Setting aside the human misery connected to this event is difficult; here in my home state we are already measuring increased, but said to be safe, radiation levels in our drinking water, and the neighboring state of Vermont reports measureable radiation level increases in the snowpack on the mountains. <br /><br />I’m far from being knowledgeable about nuclear power plant meltdowns, but many years ago, a good friend, Professor Vladimir Kovalenko of Kiev Polytechnical University, shared his observations on the Chernobyl solution with me. He had asked my assistance in soliciting funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to work on a solution to dismantling the Chernobyl reactor. It turns out we couldn’t get anyone interested in his approach, but in the doing I learned a little about sealing off reactors. Thus, I have a hard time seeing Fukushima’s three reactors being sealed as successfully as Chernobyl. I certainly hope they will. <br /><br />Thursday at midnight is the end of Japan’s fiscal year. In the past, this was “hell week” as companies worked 24 hours a day to ship every billable order in their plants to insure a healthy end of year revenue report. It’s too late for many of the companies this year as it will be nearly impossible to get enough product shipped to influence the numbers. <br /><br />I don’t have the facts, just reports here in the U.S. media about no shipments of parts, for example in the automotive industry, from Japan. At the very least, this lack of billable shipments has to hurt the last quarter and year end numbers. I estimate that Japan accounted for more than a <a href="http://http//">$1 billon of industrial lasers and systems </a>last year, and at 15% of world share any change in sales will be noted in the total global number for 2011. <br /><br />I am currently working on a Mid-Year Report on the Industrial Laser Market that will be presented as a Webcast on June 30. I am going to delay making my final PowerPoint slides as long as possible so that I can get the Japan numbers right. The total impact of the Fukushima accident won’t likely be known until the end of the first half year here in the U.S. when public companies report their 6 month revenues.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, point to disruption in Japan market -- maybenoemail@noemail.orgzapperAs this is written, the disaster in Japan is 10 days old and the initial shock and awe is past. We are now coping with the recovery from the earthquake and tsunami and living in dread that more bad news will emanate from the nuclear power plant in distress.<br /><br />Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, my friends and associates in Japan are all accounted for and safe, and for that we are extremely thankful, even while we share the sadness of the Japanese people for those dead and missing.<br /><br />To talk about the economic condition of the country and specifically the situation in the manufacturing sector almost seems blasphemous since there is so much personal suffering to get past. But our attention has been diverted by events in Libya where once again our armed forces are involved in another political action so we can view global things more dispassionately<br /><br />Several querists have asked my opinion of the Japan disaster's effects on the industrial laser industry. Since the issue is far from settled, it is hard to project the impact that a nuclear event might have because the situation, as they are wont to say, is fluid.<br /><br />Already we have heard about the impact in the semiconductor and microelectronics industries and today’s Web alerts spoke of auto plant shut downs here in the U.S. as plants are coming up short on component inventory. At breakfast this morning, my wife, commenting on TV news about a shortage affecting GM, said that it “wouldn’t have happened if they placed orders here in the U.S.” I think that was a sarcastic remark, not typical of her.<br /><br />According to my records, Japanese suppliers were planning to ship mot=re than 900 laser sheet metal cutters, 500 via hole drilling machines, and a couple of thousand laser markers along with assorted industrial lasers products. Word is that many of the suppliers are on a short work schedule or closed. So shipments will be affected; the questions are for how long and can the companies recover? <br /><br />It is the end of the Fiscal Year in Japan and the last quarter revenues will be seriously impacted. I guess I'll have to put an asterisk against the Japanese numbers in my report this year, signifying that the numbers must be read in light of the earthquake and tsunami disaster.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, tested by earthquake and tsunaminoemail@noemail.orgzapperAlong with countless others who have travelled in Japan, I am watching the news showing the results of the horrible earthquake and tsunami that struck the coast of Japan last week. <br /><br />I made the first of many trips to Japan in 1978, and I still recall the thrill of landing in Asia for the first time at- Narita airport, which had just opened and was being besieged by protesters because local farmers objected to the government’s eminent domain policies. I spent three weeks and traveled many hundreds of miles visiting companies and touring most of the major cities. On that trip I met and/or was introduced to hundreds of Japanese citizens as I made presentations at the US Embassy and several major companies and universities involved in laser material processing. Many of the people I met remain among my valued acquaintances. They welcomed me to their country, gave freely of their time and knowledge to see that I was educated about their country, and made to feel at home.<br /><br />A most memorable visit on the first trip was an unescorted walk through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park one Friday afternoon. I was one of the day’s last visitors and the only Westerner at that late hour. When you are all alone on such hallowed ground, you have the opportunity to think about the destruction and disruptions the atomic bomb caused. That visit was one of the most poignant I have ever made to memorials around the world. I left with a deeper appreciation for the resilience and dignity of the people of Japan who had suffered from the event.<br /><br />As I watched the news reports flooding in, I was struck by the similarity of my feelings. Here was another sudden disaster visited on the peoples of Japan. My first thoughts went to many friends, associates, and acquaintances I am privileged to have in Japan. I contacted my closest acquaintances to ascertain their situation. One, my colleague who manages Industrial Laser Solutions – Japan, responded to my e-mail with a message that she and her family who live in Hokkaido were all OK. She ended her message by saying “I would like to say thank you to the US government that sent a big support to the afflicted area. It encouraged us a lot.”<br /><br />As the weeks go by, we will follow the recovery in Japan. I am scheduled to be in Yokohama late in September; by that time, some level of stability should have been reached, but the lingering effects will be as indelible as the Hiroshima Memorial.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, costs dampening rising economynoemail@noemail.orgzapperI was pumping $3.39 per gallon gas into my car and thinking that this fill was going to cost me about $2.00 more than last week and $4.00 more than the last week in February. I don’t use my car as much as many who pile up the business miles each week and consequently feel the pain more. A friend takes a $60 load every week and, since he is a practicing psychologist, the only way he can cover the fuel cost is to slip an extra hour per week of consulting time into his schedule.<br /><br />The company that picks up my trash weekly bills me for fuel adjustment and if I hadn’t already booked an overseas flight a month ago I would be paying a fuel surcharge. Those who can pass it on will do so now that the weekly changes are in the double digits. Those who can’t will see their cost of doing business increase with an attendant drop in profits.<br /><br />I’ve been touting the <a href="http://http//">end of the recession </a>and, like many analysts, qualified my forecast by stating that it assumed a status quo in the world economy. Current events in certain oil producing states have slammed the cost of doing business, and some pundits are raising the specter of another recession. Some of these forecasters stubbornly refused to acknowledge the recovery, and, as the weeks went by this year, they railed against the good news with a series of qualifiers, none of which by the way included double digit weekly hikes in the cost of fuel.<br /><br />The rising cost of a barrel of petroleum, manifested at the world’s gasoline pumps, is one of those few costs of doing business that transcends national interests. The cost of fuel passed on to consumers directly or indirectly eventually impacts everyone.<br /><br />Talking with an executive of a laser product manufacturer the other day, he was commenting on the power of the Asian manufacturing market to recover from the recession, while here in the U.S. it looked like his manufacturing customers were not recovering at the speed and rate of their offshore competition. He speculated the projected further increases in fuel costs might prove to be the death knell for many marginal suppliers located in the U.S. just when business was beginning to look up.<br /><br />I countered that all global manufacturers may be forced to pass on the fuel cost increase effects to customers since it is a common global problem and that should level the playing fields somewhat.<br /><br />Even in a service oriented economy like the U.S., these fuel cost increases will have an impact along the lines of my psycologist friend who ramps up his chargeable hours to offset the rise. So, whether U.S. manufacturers compete or not, the economy here is in for a jolt, and it may be so widespread that spending will drop just when the consumer was bailing us out of the recession. Not a pretty picture.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, sector, thus laser industry, on the risenoemail@noemail.orgzapperManufacturing is on the rise around the globe except in China. The March 1st <a href="http://http//">Institute for Supply Management’s February</a> factory index rose to 61.4 from 60.8 in January, the highest since May 2004 (readings greater than 50 signal growth). In the Euro region, manufacturing grew to 59 last month, the highest since June 2000. In the UK report, Markit Economics, the index held at 61.5 last month, the highest since 1992.The PMI in Japan was up to 52.9 in February from 51.4 in January. But in China the <a href="http://http//">HSBC China Manufacturing PMI fell to 51.7</a>, a seven month low as that country’s central bank raised interest rates three times in four months in an effort to cool-off inflation.<br /><br />These statistics, even including those from China, are good news for the world’s industrial laser equipment suppliers. First it supports the very positive news generated by pubic company’s quarterly and annual reports. And for those counting on sustained manufacturing health to meet the guidance they issued for the next quarter, it produces an overall sigh of relief. The only tempering news is the price of oil rising to record heights as a consequence of the political turmoil in several oil-producing nations.<br /><br />Industrial lasers are, for the most part, tied to the fortunes of the world’s manufacturing economy; proof of this is aptly shown by the speed with which the industrial laser revenues tanked at about the same time as manufacturing did. This is a dramatic change from the days when laser sales lagged manufacturing cycles by about six months. Part of this can be attributed to the side effects of today’s lean manufacturing practices where scheduling is tight and buying decisions are made on much shorter lead times.<br /><br />The message is that laser equipment suppliers need to be paying closer attention to the MPI numbers so they do not get sandbagged as they did in December 2008 when order cancelations flowed in at an alarming rate, not allowing the suppliers time to reorganize and adapt.<br /><br />Except for any lingering effects of the sky-high oil prices, it looks like clear sailing for the laser industry through the first half off this year. Several key suppliers have backlogs booked well into the second half from industries that made it through the recession in relatively good shape and therefore are well positioned to continue in that mode for several months.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, looks like a ducknoemail@noemail.orgzapperEvery once in a while I get stumped by a seemingly innocuous question. At a recent presentation before a group of non-laser aware engineers, during the portion describing opportunities for laser welding, I was asked if lasers used for <a href="http://http//">soldering</a>/brazing applications were included under the <a href="http://http//">welding</a> topic. And further, if they were, why wasn’t the topic called laser joining, or better yet since the topic of the presentation was Lasers in Production Operations, why wasn't the section title just joining?<br /><br />If I was a stand-up comedian I would have had a snappy comeback for that last part that would bring a laugh from the audience. Rather than embarrass the questioner, however, I deviated from my prepared remarks and provided a lengthy rejoinder, which in retrospect was overblown and too weighty. My answer, dealing with a bigger issue, was why we misuse the term laser when we mean laser beam or even more correctly, why not laser energy.<br /><br />I used the following example. Years ago as the marketing director of a start-up commercial enterprise within a large R &amp; D organization, a new general manager brought in a high-level physicist to help with the development of a multi-kilowatt material processing laser. During weekly staff meetings, each director presented an update on progress and answered questions from the senior staff. The physicist had a partially irritating habit of posing his questions as challenges to a presenter’s knowledge rather than as information seeking queries. He was very critical of incorrect use of terminology and never failed to find mistakes in our reports -. Among these was the use of laser instead of laser beam.<br /><br />I’ll confess to a personality clash that caused me to take offense at any challenge he raised, factual on not. And I found most unsettling his refusal to acknowledge common usage as an answer to his nit-picking questions. But I must say that even today when I inadvertently use the term laser instead of laser beam, a picture of that insincerely smiling physicist asking that question comes to mind.<br /><br />This is apropos to a bigger question: Are we now at a point where we can drop the term laser welding and instead refer to welding, soldering, and <a href="http://http//">brazing</a> as laser joining applications? At ILS, we have sort of done this for years as we present applications that include soldering and brazing in our annual market review as laser welding. Admittedly, soldering and brazing are a small potion of annual laser joining revenues, and this is the rational I have used for years. But now it may be time to call it like I see it and refer to the processes under one title: laser joining. This should raise the ire of my nemesis physicist, since he would loudly complain that it is laser beam not <a href="http://http//">laser joining</a>.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, upbeat buzz at Photonics Westnoemail@noemail.orgzapperIn my last Blog I regaled you with anecdotes about the snowstorms plaguing the Northeast, so this is going to sound like a broken record but we had two more last week. One of them dumped another 69 cm of snow from a fast moving storm that was out of here a few hours before I returned from San Francisco, where I enjoyed record-breaking temperatures in the high 20 cm range all last week. What with record cold temperatures below -18C in Boston and 150 cm of snow on the ground. you&rsquo;re probably wondering why I came home from that glorious Bay area weather. Me too. It would have been hard to explain to my fellow <a href="http://http//">Photonics West </a>show goers why I stayed after the event was over.<br /><br /><a href="http://http//">Photonics West </a>was a roaring success, with a record crowd of about 20,000 clogging the aisles in the North and South Halls and the many conference rooms where the SPIE technical sessions were held at the Moscone Center. We knew something was up when the aisles in the South Hall, where we had our booth, filled up just after the opening on Tuesday and stayed that way through Thursday noon.<br /><br />As I wended my way through the halls to visit other exhibitors, I was impressed by the density of the visitors in the halls and in supplier exhibits. At a Wednesday afternoon LASE conference on Fiber Lasers, my presentation on the fiber laser markets drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 250. I shouldn&rsquo;t brag about this as most fiber laser sessions drew full attendance, but when I finished almost half of the audience left the room.<br /><br />The overall attitude in the exhibit halls and conference rooms and at the annual PennWell-organized <a href="http://http//">Lasers &amp; Photonics Marketplace Seminar </a>was upbeat. Veteran attendees like me recognize that buzz that seems to permeate a show when business is good. It&rsquo;s an undercurrent of excitement on the part of visitors echoed by the exhibit booth personnel. And one can pick it up in the hotel lobbies and bars where the noise level ramps up after the show and in the restaurants populated by show goers and exhibitors where the bills can be obscenely large. Midway through the week we had our impression of business health confirmed with the reports from two public companies, Coherent with sales up 49% year on year and II-VI, which reported a 76% increase y/y.<br /><br />There is no doubt about it; business is good in the laser markets and getting better. The manufacturing sector in the U.S. is having a great recovery from the recession, so much so that companies have begun to set aside overtime and hiring is commencing &mdash; not a full blown industry wide reaction, but large enough to staunch the unemployment number growth and produce some real downward movement. The <a href="http://http//;SECTION=HOME&amp;TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&amp;CTIME=2011-01-31-06-35-27">Associated Press </a>reports that at Number 1, the U.S. out-produces Number 2 China by more than 40% and does it with less workers; by making complex and expensive goods.<br /><br />At my Lasers &amp; Photonics Marketplace presentation last week, I was very optimistic about the long term prospects for market growth, so much so that at the lunch break I was jokingly being called Pollyanna by fellow attendees. But you can&rsquo;t deny the numbers; six months ago, the same numbers were neutral and now they are very positive. So go with the flow and enjoy a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing and the growth of the laser market accordingly.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, attitudesnoemail@noemail.orgzapperWhen last I left you, we were riding out another nor&rsquo;eastah (as they say down Maine), which ended up leaving 23 inches on the ground, followed by another 4, then 8 and as this is being written, another 8 inches. We&rsquo;ve already passed the annual average snowfall with another 6 to 8 weeks to go before the weather pattern changes to warmer temperatures.<br /><br />As you read this, I will be winging my way to milder climes in San Francisco for the annual Photonics West, the <a href="http://http//">SPIE LASE Conference</a>, and PennWell&rsquo;s Laser and Photonics Marketplace Seminar.<br /><br />In reverse order, at the <a href="http://http//">Marketplace Seminar</a>, I will be bringing positive news to a roomful of marketing executives, who already know that the tide has turned and business is very good. I&rsquo;ll be showing them market numbers that suggest the industrial sector will return to pre-recession revenue levels a year ahead of what had been forecast. Suppliers are reporting record sales revenues and profits, and bookings at many are at an all-time high.<br /><br />I was visiting with a system integrator who said his bookings through 2011 and into 2012 are a record and that his main problem is finding vendors to supply the company&rsquo;s production demands. It seems we all joked about this situation when we in the depths of the recession, saying, "It&rsquo;s a problem we won&rsquo;t complain about&rdquo; then.<br /><br />My Seminar presentation is full of optimism, and I will back it up with my view of the industries being served by industrial lasers and their buying plans for the coming year. Even the solar cell business, which looks to be in a cyclical downswing, as some countries cut or drop subsidies, is positioned to work off the inventory as new markets open quickly. This is great for the laser business as this is a key industry for laser processing.<br /><br />At the <a href="http://http//">LASE</a> conference, I will show the status of the fiber laser industry and how its growth potential will make it a dominant player in the indusial laser marketplace as early as next year. Fiber lasers, along with other solid-state lasers, dragged the laser market up to significant growth last year, but the big growth numbers were with fiber lasers, which will now continue to eat into solid-state sales, especially in microprocessing.<br /><br />And, finally, I will be meeting with a cross-section of laser and component suppliers, all of which focus on the industrial market. Photonics West set records for exhibitors this year, and its character is changing a bit as visitors are feeling comfortable with their products. I fully expect to hear nothing but good news from those I interview as the timing of the recovery couldn&rsquo;t have been better.<br /><br />It will be a busy week, but the show and conferences will be upbeat and a pleasure to attend.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>,, the weather outside is frightfulnoemail@noemail.orgzapperOutside my window it is snowing hard. This is the third Nor’easter in 5 days, the first two being inconsequential, just 1 and 4 inches, respectively. But this one is, as we say here in New England, a "wicked storm", with 20+ inches already down and more to come.<br /><br />Friends and colleagues across the pond in Western Europe know what I am writing about as they have had one of the worst winters for snow in decades, with some of them living in countries where snow depth records were set. I’ll be seeing many of them in a few days at Photonics West in San Francisco, and I am sure we’ll greet each other with outstretched hands showing the snow depth.<br /><br />My good friend and SALA colleague, Bob Murray, tells me he and his wife, Pauline, fought their way up Interstate 84 from Danbury, Connecticut to East Hartford in 5 hours Saturday night. It’s only a 60-minute drive normally, but 8 inches of unplowed snow closed the highway, forcing a backroad detour. I can’t believe he left the warmer Hilton Head, S.C., for an old fashion Nor’easter this week.<br /><br />Bob was calling to bring me up to date on SALA activities. (The <a href="http://http//">6th Annual Symposium for Advanced Laser Applications </a>will be held in Hartford on April 13 to 14.) Registrations, sponsors, and tabletop reservations are coming in and the speaker’s panel is filling up. This year the Organizing Committee has taken a new tack: All speakers will be end users nominated by a panel of product suppliers. The plan is to meet the goal of being the first “end users” symposium, and attendees are being invited from all over North America. To accommodate those traveling long distances, SALA has been moved to the Sheraton Hartford and a block of rooms at an attractive rate will make attending economical.<br /><br />The program has been arranged so that attendees can pick and choose sessions and combine this with time to meet and discuss projects with the exhibitors in an adjacent room. For example, there is a session on <a href="http://http//">laser drilling</a>, another on <a href="http://http//">laser welding</a>, and one on <a href="http://http//">surface modification</a>, <a href="http://http//">cutting</a>, <a href="http://http//">additive manufacturing</a>, coating removal and process control.<br /><br />SALA will be an event where users can get the latest information on their processing activity, and those new to the technology can learn more about the processes and the economics of each as shared by the speakers who themselves are users.<br /><br />ILS is deeply involved with SALA. I serve on the Organizing and Planning Committees and ILS is the exclusive media partner. So we are looking forward to this opportunity to meet with a diverse group of manufacturing professionals who share one interest: laser materials processing.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the slate cleannoemail@noemail.orgzapperIt&rsquo;s the first week of a new year/decade, and here in New England it started bright and sunny, with the temperature above normal. Outside my office, the remainders of an unexpected blizzard a week ago are just about gone as we enjoyed almost balmy temperatures last week, melting the 12 inches of snow on the ground.<br /><br />I like to wipe the slate clean and forget about last year, just as I turn the calendar page and start the year with optimism, well founded this year as business prospects are looking up and good news abounds in the manufacturing sector. The Monday Wall Street Journal was full of good news, but the item I liked the best was headlined, "Big Firms Poised To Spend Again," which opened with &ldquo;Big U.S. companies have cleaned up their balance sheets and, flush with cash (my emphasis), appear open to using it in 2011 on factories (again my emphasis), stores and even hiring (me again)." It&rsquo;s a <a href="http://http//">long article </a>and I encourage readers to savor it.<br /><br />What could be a better way to start the year than to read about companies primed to boost manufacturing in the US? If you weren't already feeling positive about a fresh new year, this will help you change your attitude.<br /><br />Many of us charged with forecasting the economy, in my case that of the industrial laser community, were cautious in their year-end reports. There was an optimistic undertone, but conservatism engendered by world events and a little residual bruising after the recession led to a cautious modest growth forecast for 2011. My number is 14%, which isn&rsquo;t far off the 18.10% CAGR of the market since 1970.<br /><br />My roadmap for sustaining economic growth includes modest growth rates, led by applications in the medical device, display, semiconductor, <a href="http://http//">energy</a>, and <a href="http://http//">aerospace</a> industries. A return to solid double-digit growth in <a href="http://http//">marking/engraving </a>will bolster the solid state and CO2 numbers.<br /><br />Application growth in <a href="http://http//">laser assist manufacturing </a>and the buying capacity of the BRIC markets will keep industrial lasers on an upward growth curve.<br /><br />So my new year optimism is grounded in the reality that the pieces are all in place for a vibrant new year/decade.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the year on an upswingnoemail@noemail.orgzapperA little bird arrived at the feeder this morning, trilling that it was officially the first day of winter, a fact I already knew as the first snowflakes of a passing ocean storm covered the ground. It’s three days until Christmas, and a resolute band of sentimentalists, each humming the old Bing Crosby chestnut “White Christmas,” have their collective fingers crossed that the dusting will last until Christmas morning.<br /><br />Another clue that the holiday is coming is the spate of e-mail holiday greetings I have been receiving for a few days now. I still receive old-fashioned mailed cards, which I especially appreciate as these are among the nicest greeting cards received.<br /><br />The other clue is the buildup of e-mail messages advising that this or that company will stay closed through the coming week to “allow their employees to celebrate the holiday season,” an admirable gesture. Actually, I fall in this category, taking vacation between Christmas and New Year. So don’t look for a blog from me next week. <br /><br />I always despise the end-of-year editorial musings that are beginning to appear, which is funny because I am an historian of sorts, but not an instant historian, I guess. Thus, I refrain from viewing and/or reading all the retrospectives that will permeate the Web, television news, and newspapers.<br /><br />Since I will be on vacation next week, I’ll give you my annual review now. 2010 was a better year than 2009: the recession ended, officially, and the laser industry, for the most part, turned the corner and finished up the year with good financials and backlogs that presage a better 2011.<br /><br />The laser industry breathed a big sigh of relief that the corner had been turned and then patted itself on the back that some had set revenue and backlog records and that most see a strong first half in 2011. On that note, what can I say? Finishing the year on the upswing is a nice feeling, and the immediate future certainly looks bright for the industrial laser community.<br /><br />So a very happy holiday to all, a special happy New Year, and hopes for a more profitable year.<br /><br />Oh, by the way, the sun just came out and melted all the snow, so we, here in this part of New England, will probably have a green Christmas. Sorry, Bing.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the seasonnoemail@noemail.orgzapperThis is a particularly distracting time of the year. Even if we took the Christmas Holiday out of the month, many of us would still be feeling the end of the year pressures which have more importance for those whose fiscal year ends on December 31st. Many companies have shifted their fiscal year closing to coincide with the federal and state governments if they do business with those entities. But for many others, the end of the year is also the end of their fiscal year. <br /><br />For them, trying to cope with all the pressures of the holiday season compounded by the need to close the company books on a positive note can prove to be a difficult one-two punch.<br /><br />When I had a manufacturing company, we were always increasing employee’s overtime to get that one last shipment out the door so that the sales book looked as good as possible. I can recall resorting to all kinds of accounting magic to get shipments on the books even if it was to a local warehouse where the equipment was turned around on January 1st to be “modified” prior to shipment to the customer. The brief stay in the warehouse qualified it as shipped in the current year.<br /><br />I thought about all these pressures the other night as I attended a performance of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. It must have been the umpteenth time I have sat through this classic, but for the first time I had some sympathy for the “villain” of the piece, Ebenezer Scrooge. Why did this rendering make me empathize with the poor put-upon business man - hounded by charity requests, beset by employee problems and so overwhelmed that he planned to work on Christmas day?<br /><br />I think it was the intent of the show’s director to have Scrooge become less of an ogre and more of an addled businessman trying to cope with the end of the year and the holiday at the same time. Mind you I am not condoning his practices, but when those charity workers arrived and asked for a donation and Scrooge recited one of the classic speeches in Dickens’s work, a diatribe on the injustices faced by the poor business owner, I almost found myself nodding my head. Good directing and good acting made a sympathizer out of me, at least for that scene in the play.<br /><br />Discussing this later with my guests, I decided, erroneously, that Scrooge was a candidate for the Tea Party, at least the smaller government part. At the close of the play when Scrooge relents and turns into a fuzzy darling, I almost called him a traitor to his cause. I’m not certain that, in those Victorian times, he would have had some public way to express his outrage, as we do with the Internet, but the poor man, I told my guests, may just have been looking for a forum to speak his piece.<br /><br />One of my guests, my sister, opined that I had had too much wine before we went to the play and that my thinking was muddled. I chalked her reasoning up to holiday fever, where she along with others has “visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.”<br /><br />The next issue of ILS is ready for printing a week before Christmas. The publisher closes the third quarter a week later, but the end of the fiscal year is still three months away. So all I have to do is get the editorial finalized and I, too, can enjoy the December refrain, Happy Holidays to all.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, perspectivesnoemail@noemail.orgzapperIt’s hard to believe but we are in the homestretch of 2010, with the end of the year just a few short weeks away. The speed with which the year passed may be attributable to the increase in business for most aspects of industrial laser material processing. It started in San Francisco last January where the buzz at Photonics West was the turnaround in the markets. At LASYS in Stuttgart, halfway through the year, industry recovery was being openly talked about, with fingers crossed, as reality set in. At <a href="http://http//">EuroBlech </a>in Hannover and Fabtech in Atlanta this fall, the end of the recession was obvious as exhibitors were once again finding strong quoting action from show attendees.<br /><br />There is no question that the expansive activity in the semiconductor, <a href="http://http//">microprocessing,</a> energy and medical device markets spurred record sales at solid-state and fiber laser manufacturers. Revenue growth was almost enough to offset the laggard fabricated metal product markets for high power CO2 lasers. The introduction of new fiber laser powered <a href="http://http//">sheet metal cutters </a>helped to generate lost revenue in that market as this cutting technology was finding new customers.<br /><br />At EuroBlech, a half dozen new fiber laser cutter suppliers showed products, bringing the total of product suppliers to more than 25. Does this market need this many equipment suppliers? Fair question, except one must remember that there are more than 75 companies offering CO2 powered metal cutting systems globally. And most of the fiber laser cutter suppliers sell CO2 systems also.<br /><br />Looked at from a different perspective, one could speculate that for the most part <a href="http://http//">fiber laser cutter equipment </a>is basically another product in the sales catalog of CO2 sales people, so to them a sale is just a sale. Concerning the laser makers, less than a handful manufacture only one laser type, with most now offering a choice to system integrators.<br /><br />Considering this, one might ask why there is competition between CO2 and fiber lasers for sheet metal cutting. There seems to be sufficient business to satisfy most everyone. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out in 2011.<br /><br />Speaking of 2011, business prospects look good for a continuation of the growth pattern set in 2010. The great unknown is the economic situation in Europe and the fall out from this impacting North America and Asia. This situation has the makings of a market buster, but at this time we do not have a reason to adjust our very positive forecast that will appear in the January /February issue of ILS.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, Thanksgivingnoemail@noemail.orgzapperHere in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday to give thanks for the good things that have happened since the last celebration. It’s a feast day in every meaning of the word: a time for overindulgence in food and drink and, for some, for unending doses of football, both live and on television.<br /><br />In my family we treat this as a family holiday; an opportunity to gather as many as possible to enjoy a sumptuous meal and each other's company. I like this holiday because there is no pressure to find gifts as will be the case at Christmas.<br /><br />This year, I as the host, will make brief remarks about the celebration. What I won’t be saying to the family is a comment about the relief I have that the economy has turned, especially in the industrial laser markets, and the pleasure I have with the remarkable recovery and return to profitability this industry has experienced.<br /><br />Two years ago, on Thanksgiving, we were on the cusp of what was to be the worst recession in laser history, only we did not know it at the time. A year ago the first glimmers of the end of the recession were appearing, even though we were to experience a few more months of uncertainty, and at Thanksgiving I could have included this optimism in my remarks at the feast.<br /><br />Having said this, I rail at those who, for some undisclosed reason, are trying to dampen the pleasure of the recovery by dire predictions that what we are enjoying is ephemeral at best. The ugly words “double dip” have reared their head again. All the indicators we use to measure the health of the manufacturing economy have been positive about recovery and growth. And yet the naysayers interpret this same information negatively, choosing to find flaws in the reasoning and "debunk" market indicators.<br /><br />So as I ponder on this, after a magnificent dinner, my satisfaction level is not quite as full as my stomach. So I am ignoring the naysayers because business prospects are good, and this does not include the fabricated metal sector, which is the last to return to profitable growth. My forecast for the coming year is modest increases in all segments, and secretly I think it can be better than that.<br /><br />So, I sit back, satisfied that all is well; at least on the feast day. Isn’t that what it is all about?<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, a big successnoemail@noemail.orgzapperThe numbers are in from the organizers and sponsors of Fabtech 2010, and the results are even better than our <a href="http://http//">instant analysis </a>indicated. A 12% increase in attendance over the 2006 Atlanta show and a 23% increase in exhibitors over that event gave lie to the pre-show babble that Atlanta was not a good venue for fabricating and welding technology.<br /><br />Congratulations to the organizers (the FMA, SME, AWS and PMA) and all those 1100+ exhibitors who had faith that a) the market was recovering and b) the Southeast remains a hotbed of fabricating technology.<br /><br />Sample comments from exhibitors: “We got more leads out of this show than all the others combined that we’ve participated in.” And from another: “Everybody’s positive about the future, and things look and feel a lot better then they did a year ago.” From an attendee: “I now know this is the one place I need to go if I want to find the latest technology to improve processes, reduce costs, and stay competitive.<br /><br />I said earlier that I had seen many smiling faces at Fabtech and now I know why; it was a better show than last time and that one was, in my mind, a great show.<br /><br />Let’s hope the enthusiasm from the exhibitors and attendees lasts into the New Year to kick start the recovery in the fabricated metal products sector.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the buzz was on fiber laser cuttingnoemail@noemail.orgzapperTrade shows, especially machine tool shows, are strange animals. They seem to have a life of their own, taking on an atmosphere that may echo current events such as EMO Hanover opening the day after 9/11, where a pall hung over the fairgrounds. Shows can also reflect the economy, such as Fabtech 2008 in Las Vegas, where exhibitors were euphoric, still riding a high that resulted from an overheated EuroBlech a few weeks earlier. I recall watching the crowds using the escalators at that convention center and commenting about their smiling faces.<br /><br />Sometimes, exhibitors are reserved and cautious as a show starts, mirroring the popular feeling in the streets outside. At Fabtech Atlanta, the show opened on election day, and inside the convention center, it was like nothing was happening outside. I spoke with large numbers of exhibitors and attendees and never once did the subject of the elections come up until I prompted a response relative to opinions on business conditions for 2011.<br /><br />I haven’t seen the numbers and show analysis for Fabtech yet so these observations are mine, but similar to many I spoke with. Fabtech 2010 was a success: Some said a good show; some, including most exhibitors, didn’t hesitate to call it a great show. Certainly the traffic on the first two days was satisfactory, relieving concerns that the Southeast fabricating markets were not booming as they were three years prior. Before the show I had heard reservations by exhibitors and attendees, a common one being the markets in the Southeast were still in recession and that the region could not support a large fabricating show.<br /><br />Well “they” were wrong again, as they were three years ago. The action in exhibits that were showing advances in <a href="http://http//">laser cutting technology </a>were heavy at all times. I happened to overhear a group of three attendees standing in line for refreshments, checking their watches to insure they had time to see a last fiber cutting demonstration.<br /><br />Fiber laser cutting seemed to be a common thread among those I spoke with; whether out of curiosity or advanced knowledge, I gathered that this technology rang a bell with a large sector of the visitors who were looking at laser cutting.<br /><br />So, being as provincial as I can, let me say that those showing fiber laser cutters at Fabtech had a great show. As for those who chose not to do this year's Fabtech for one reason or another, have faith because I heard many comments about those of you who have or are about to have a fiber laser cutter from show attendees.<br /><br />In my September/October <a href="http://http//">review of fiber lasers cutters </a>on the market, I speculated on the fiber laser's impact: Would it just pirate sales from CO2, add to the markets, or do a little of both. The jury is still out, but it is obvious that fiber laser cutting caused a buzz, a term that is out of vogue but appropriate. For me that’s enough because it seemed to be a reason for the crowds at this year's Fabtech, with the follow-up is in the hands of the sellers.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, a small world after allnoemail@noemail.orgzapperLonger ago than I care to remember, I took my son to Disneyland where we enjoyed all the rides except for Small World. The only reason for our disenchantment with this Disney ride was the incessant playing of the song, "Its a Small World". All the time spent in line to enter the ride, probably 30 minutes, we were bombarded with this tune and then subjected to it continuously throughout the ride.<br /><br />For the rest of the day that song reverberated in my brain and I found myself humming it repeatedly. I was humming it so much that I vowed never to listen to it again, a hapless goal if you have ever visited Disney&rsquo;s parks.<br /><br />However, I have been itching to find a reason to use the song title in my writing. And now I have the opportunity so I will get it out of my system, once and for all.<br /><br />It is a small world, this manufacturing sector served by precision processing operations. This world is made for sharply focused laser beams which, depending on wavelength choice, can produce remarkable results such as those that benefit from &ldquo;cold processing&rdquo;.<br /><br />As we finish the first decade of the new millennium, allow me to resurrect statements and thoughts I made as we entered the new decade. I quote from the January 2000 ILS Annual Economic Review, &ldquo;All in all, ILS editors think 2000 should see the long-predicted move to <a href="http://http//">microprocessing </a>as the key to industry sales growth.&rdquo;<br /><br />I will confess that it took a little longer than I had imagined back in 2000, but we are now there and it&rsquo;s a small world after all. It would be nice if we had a hymnal to celebrate the occasion and I may have found it in a new book published by Springer (<a href=""></a>) entitled Laser Precision Microfabrication. This book, edited by Koji Sugioka, Michel Meunier, and Alberto Piqu&eacute;, is an expansion of their original concept, which was to present selected papers from the International Symposium on Laser Precision Microfabrication (LPM), which has been held at international venues since the first one in Saitama, Japan, and the latest in Stuttgart, Germany in conjunction with LASYS 2010.<br /><br />As an editor trying to cover concurrent session at conferences, the choice of which to attend is difficult, made untenable if your interests are broad. So I thank the book editors for compiling a very valuable display of the current and near-term processes for laser microprocessing. The book is a very useful selection of papers and contributions that covers <a href="http://http//">laser ablation</a>, micro and nano-<a href="http://http//">structuring</a>, <a href="http://http//">patterning</a>, microforming, and the more familiar processes: <a href="http://http//">cutting</a>, <a href="http://http//">drilling</a>, <a href="http://http//">welding,</a> and <a href="http://http//">marking</a>.<br /><br />The selection of authors is excellent, and they treat each subject in 13 chapters as if the readers are novices to that particular technology. And for those who are deeply interested, the authors have included lengthy and comprehensive references at the end of each chapter. What this does is make this book a valuable reference resource on my bookshelf ,and I will likely make heavy use of the Index as I seek an explanation for some application that I am writing about.<br /><br />So here&rsquo;s the close: it&rsquo;s rapidly getting to be a small world in laser material processing. As the macro applications begin to mature, it will be these rapidly developing micro processes that will act to increase markets. Driven by more reliable and responsive lasers integrated into &ldquo;laser only" processing systems, it doesn&rsquo;t take a genius to realize that when attending the next concurrent session conference, more time should be spent in the microfabrication session. However, the book will still serve as a &ldquo;basics&rdquo; for those who are not laser &ldquo;junkies," but are process engineers looking for a solution to a difficult microfabrication operation.<br /><br />I recommend the book for process engineers and applaud the editors for the selection of contributors who have written on both an introductory and advanced level for readers.<br /><br />The book Laser Precision Microfabrication, Springer Series in Material Science 135, is available from Springer, <a href=""></a>; in the U.S., you can call 1-(800)-Springer.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, with the messagenoemail@noemail.orgzapperEvery once in awhile, as the Editor-in-Chief of Industrial Laser Solutions, I am reminded of the mission of this magazine.<br /><br />A reader, Barry Buchanan, contacted me about his reading of an <a href="http://http//">article</a> in the September/October issue that dealt with <a href="http://http//">laser marker </a>selection. He writes, &rdquo;While reading the article, I found myself wishing that I possessed the information written here 10 years ago when I was first contracted to develop a marking program for a large hand tool manufacturer marking round plated products, and that sales people had this same information and fully understood it. I eventually installed 22 (laser) marking systems in their company. I contacted several people involved with laser sales and none were able to explain the differences. Most seemed to think that a Nd:YAG, a ND:YVO4 and a fiber system, because they are all 1064 wavelength, are all the same when actually, as Peter Grollmann (the author) pointed out so well, they are quite different and each has its own place in the field of marking. It took me some time to grasp these differences especially in the fiber verses YVO4 systems. A company I was working with to develop a marking program wanted to peruse the fiber as a replacement system, so I was doing a lot of sampling, but not until I finally had the opportunity to have a system in house for a month and work with it, did I fully understand the differences. This is the best written article I&rsquo;ve seen comparing the good and not so good points of solid state laser marking systems. It is very well written and provides a wealth of information to anyone trying to start a marking program.&rdquo;<br /><br />Twenty-five years ago, when I co- founded ILS, I promulgated a mission statement that is as pertinent today as it was back in the days when laser processing was struggling to find a place in the manufacturing plants. In three sentences this statement is as important today as it was then:<br /><br />&ldquo;Manufacturing professionals require timely technical information about and evidence of the benefits of laser materials processing and the products that affect these processes. Keeping pace with all these benefits requires access to information from professionals who are knowledgeable about advanced laser materials processing. Industrial Laser Solutions provides first-hand experience about the technology and benefits to advanced laser material processing, educating readers in ways to improve profitability.&rdquo;<br /><br />As I read Barry&rsquo;s letter it occurred to me that it was a perfect example of what we try to achieve with ILS in every issue. I should have this mission statement blown-up and posted over my computer terminal as I select editorial themes for next year. Thank you for reminding me, Barry.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, glorious colors of fallnoemail@noemail.orgzapperWe are fast approaching the height of the fall foliage season here in Southern New England. The peak foliage line is just poking into the local area and some pockets of brilliant color are just passing prime.<br /> <br />Purists among the locals will be arguing about the intensity and beauty of the colors for at least two more weeks as the peak period passes prime. Some will credit the long dry summer as the reason colors were less intense, while others will recall the heavy rains of spring as the reason the reds are redder and the golds deeper this year.<br /><br />I&rsquo;ve been laying the groundwork for my <a href="http://http//">annual economic review</a>, a process that entails a lot of reading of articles I have accumulated over the preceding months. As I look at these I am struck by the sameness of judging the beauty of this year&rsquo;s foliage. A case for a sluggish recovery makes sense, but the reports from some of the key public companies run counter. This gives the impression that appearances of sluggishness in the economy are false clues to a mixed bag of active markets that just happen to be in the sectors that favor laser technology.<br /><br />I was driving along a favorite state highway that is noted for its mix of gold and red foliage, and is usually one of those delightful perspectives especially when the afternoon sun casts oblique light, which draws the most out of the colors. Much to my chagrin, the trees were bare of leaves in the normally glorious section of roadway.<br /><br />A thought crossed my mind that this could almost be an analogy for the laser system market; colors were mostly sharp, representing the majority of the market that covers lasers used in the energy, semiconductor, <a href="http://http//">medical devices </a>and aerospace industries. But key sites, such as the <a href="http://http//">laser cutting </a>market, were barren, reflecting continued resistance on the part of buyers in this sector. And continuing the thought, this usually bright section of highway was desolate and dull, depressing those who view it, just as the metal cutting market is dragging down market results.<br /><br />The leaves, for the most part, will be gone from this area by the end of the month, not to be replaced until next spring. Here the analogy falls apart, as the market will likely get a boost from two big trade shows, featuring laser metal cutting, in the coming weeks that will either set the tone for recovery in the coming year or, worst case, continue to reflect a muddled economy.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, quickly time fliesnoemail@noemail.orgzapperLast week at ICALEO in Anaheim, the 50th anniversary of the first working laser was celebrated officially by the Laser Institute of America at a special closing plenary session, Celebrating 50 Years of Laser. During the week at <a href="http://http//">ICALEO</a> participants took advantage of the presence of numbers of technology pioneers to informally exchange reminiscences of the early days. I almost wish that I was carrying a recorder to save for posterity some of the anecdotes that were being shared.<br /><br />I had the great pleasure of sitting with Nobel Laureate Charles Townes in the lounge atop one of the hotel towers and together watching a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean, while sharing a glass or two of wine.<br /><br />Charlie, as he likes to introduce himself, remains a thoroughly down-to earth individual who carries his fame easily. At a rather advanced age &mdash; he turned 95 in July &mdash; he remains both inquisitive and entertaining. While he freely regales with anecdotes, he also has a deep curiosity for what you do. He was especially interested in the beginnings of the industrial laser business, which in those early days was far removed from the lofty academic world he lived and worked in. Although we travelled in different circles over the years, we shared many acquaintances who are among those who were the backbone of a developing business sector.<br /><br />Charlie was interested in my comments on the shifting fortunes of the industrial laser world with Asia, led by China, as the main market driver. Sensing his interest in the commercial aspects of laser technology I asked if, in those early days, there was much talk about taking the product to market. He allowed that it may have been part of conversations, especially in his interactions with Bell Labs, but that he was a physicist with physicist&rsquo;s curiosity about technology not markets.<br /><br />The day after this pleasant interlude, I saw Charlie hustling through the Orange County Airport, towing his suitcase, passing through hordes of people lined up at a Starbucks and an adjacent departure gate, and not a soul realized a Noble prize winner had passed by. Dressed in a suit and tie he looked like just another businessman rushing to catch a plane. And that&rsquo;s the way he wanted it.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, From modest beginnings to world-recognized conferencenoemail@noemail.orgWRITER FIRETwenty-nine years ago at the Anaheim Marriott, I had the pleasure, as General Chairman, to call to order the first International Laser Processing Conference (ILPC). This event, the first of its kind, was the culmination of three years of planning and diplomatic negotiations between cooperating societies. In 1978, as president of the Laser Institute of America, I conceived the idea of the LIA joining forces with the Japan Laser Processing Society and the Japan Society for Laser technology to bring together the best industrial laser materials technology in Japan and the United States. At that time, these two countries were at the forefront of process development and Europe had not yet made its mark.<br /><br />Looking back, an international conference on a nascent technology was a brash idea, as it had not been done yet. And negotiating to get two, then-competing organizations in Japan, each led by a strong personality, to agree to co-sponsor, was an even brasher idea. Behind the scenes meetings in Japan resulted in a momentous, for the time, meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Tokyo, where the Japanese partners put aside their reticence and agreed to take an equal share with the LIA to make ILPC happen. At the time, I felt a little like the Secretary General of the United Nations, bargaining with strong personalities for the betterment of all participants.<br /><br />With the strong support of a marketing team from my then-employer, Avco Everett Metalworking Lasers, we planned, organized, and conducted the first ILPC. Thirty-three papers by leading process developers in the two countries made up two days of technical sessions. The team produced a bound copy of the proceedings for handout at the meeting, a first for a technical conference. The registered attendees, many from Europe, filled the ballroom at the Marriott, and the consensus opinion was that ILPC was a great success and that it should go forward. The European attendees, mainly researchers from Germany, went on to be the highly visible drivers behind Germany&rsquo;s growth as a power in industrial laser material processing.<br /><br />The LIA recognized the need for an annual event and responded accordingly; the following year the first International Congress on Applications of Lasers and Electro-optics was held. This year marks the 29th anniversary of ICALEO, born from that modest joint US/Japan conference, with an audience five times larger than in 1981.<br /><br />Looking at the proceedings of ILPC 30 years later is a little like looking at the history of industrial laser activity in manufacturing. Among the topics were: hermetic sealing of titanium, cutting stainless steel, high resolution mask repair, heat treating low carbon steel, machining ceramics, manufacturing blanking tools, surface alloying and laser marking, and serialization. And the list of presenters reads like a who&rsquo;s who of laser process developers. <br /><br />ICALEO has become THE international advanced laser material processing conference, recognized around the world as a window on applications for the future. And to think that it all traces back to that brash decision to hold ILPC.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>,;s not over till the fat lady singsnoemail@noemail.orgzapperThat sound you are hearing is the wild celebration going on in the ILS office as we revel in response to the notice that the recession was over in June 2009. The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research made the announcement to deafening silence in Washington on September 20th. The Republicans and the Democrats were reticent to celebrate because the former won&rsquo;t admit the economy is growing and the latter is still sensitive to the lack of new jobs. The Tea Party doesn&rsquo;t know how to react as it was good news, and they don&rsquo;t know how to deal with that; you can&rsquo;t get mad about good news.<br /><br />However, we here at ILS are overjoyed. As a matter of fact, we almost decided to make yesterday a company holiday until we got bogged down over the celebration date, September 20th 2010, or the end of June 2009.<br /><br />We did begin to discuss the timing of the announcement: how come it took so long for the Committee to become aware that the economy had turned? The chairman of the Committee, quoted in the Wall Street Journal,September 21, 2010, said the committee was concerned that announcing the recession had ended a year ago might be confusing as many people &ldquo;think recession means a bad time and there&rsquo;s no question we&rsquo;re [still] in bad times.&rdquo; Excuse me, since when is good news, of any kind, confusing? When you are down as low as we were in June 2009, any good news is a blessing. You may recall the ILS effort to find a &ldquo;Sliver of Light&rdquo; back in those grim days.<br /><br />The industrial laser marketplace seems to be on a solid upward track, especially in the <a href="http://http//">microprocessing </a>sector. We have been very cautious about the macroprocessing sector, specifically the market segment for <a href="http://http//">laser cutting </a>for sheetmetal fabricating, which stubbornly seems to have reached a neutral phase. Hopes for a stronger recovery in this market have suppliers focusing on EuroBlech next month and Fabtech in November. The former was incorrectly judged as a positive success two years ago when exhibitors misread visitor enthusiasm as a sign of prosperity only to be rudely awakened on December 1 when orders cancelations began to roll in. So, many observers at the Hanover show this year will be extremely cautious in assessing good news from the exhibit floor.<br /><br />Here at ILS the party is winding down as the ephemeral nature of the celebration took hold and reality set in. We decided that the June 2009 turning point was the official date and not the belated announcement from the government, and that dull employment news overwhelmed a partying mood. Oh well, it was a short but invigorating moment, and I noticed smiles as we returned to our daily routine.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, ups and downs of forecastingnoemail@noemail.orgzapperI don&rsquo;t know about you, but I am getting a little weary with alternating good and bad news from the global manufacturing countries and on a micro scale individual manufacturing companies.<br /><br />As an example; the manufacturing economy news from Germany has swung wildly from very bad to miraculous recovery, back to bad in just a few short months. Back in June at LASYS in Stuttgart I heard a Federal Government Minister singing the blues about the sorry state of the Mittelstand in Germany not being able to compete with their opposite numbers in China. He was all gloom and doom as were several industry leaders at a later press conference. And just a month later German business confidence was up.<br /><br />I don&rsquo;t know if you have ever done the following but I did as it occurred to me that this economic reporting had weaknesses so I simply have listed references&rsquo; that I saved as background for my Annual Economic Review of the industrial laser market. I have inserted directional arrows to reflect my emotional ups and downs. I am not picking on Germany but it is a world leader in the production and use of industrial lasers, so it serves as an interesting example<br /><br />German Industrial Orders Show Weak Growth (AP - January 22) &darr;<br />German Manufacturing Orders Unexpectedly Declined in December<br />(Bloomberg February 4) &darr;<br />German Manufacturing Orders Extend Record Plunge (Bloomberg March 11)&darr;<br />German manufacturing gauge climbs to record high (Market Watch April 22) &uarr;<br />German manufacturing orders surged in March signaling rate of Germany&rsquo;s recovery is gathering speed (Fin Facts May 6) &uarr;<br />German Manufacturing Orders Look Strong (Seeking Alpha June 7) &uarr;<br />German Manufacturing Orders Fall (WSJ July 7) &darr;<br />German Business Confidence Up In July (AP July 23) &uarr;<br />Unexpected Decline in German Manufacturing Output (RTT News Aug 6) &darr;<br />German manufacturing orders drop 2.2% in July (Market Watch Sept 15) &darr;<br /><br />So, should I panic in October or just wait for another economic news reversal? I had a mentor who taught me more about economic forecasting then I ever learned in my university days. I shall always remember his caution, &ldquo;Look at a forecast as a snapshot in time. It&rsquo;s what you see today and it will change tomorrow.&rdquo;<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, laboring on Labor Daynoemail@noemail.orgzapperLabor Day was officially established as a federal holiday by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1984, an action which was seen as an antidote to the violent government/labor relations of that period. The original concept was to celebrate the strength of the labor unions and to honor the industrious workers of America. Over the years the holiday lost its original focus and more recently has become the &ldquo;unofficial&rdquo; end of summer and the start of a new academic year.<br /><br />This year, for many in the United States, Labor Day will be an anachronism, a day to celebrate workers when more than 9% of them are unemployed, caught in the fallout from the just-ended recession. There will be one or two lofty speeches, generally ignored, and some political puffery, especially in an election year. But on the whole, for many of us unaffected by Hurricane Earl, it will just be a very pleasant long weekend that marks the end of a too long baseball season (if your team is out of the playoffs) and the start of the long awaited return of college and professional football, with all the optimism an unblemished record brings.<br /><br />Over the years I have editorialized about the plight of the worker in this country's manufacturing industries as companies moved to more automated practices that tried the capability level of their workers, but also displaced many who were made redundant.<br /><br />China, one of the world&rsquo;s most vibrant manufacturing sectors, is undergoing its own wrenching labor unrest as workers are winning concessions from factory owners by demanding more equitable salaries as they see a burgeoning middle class, which they cannot join, enjoying a more prosperous way of life. Other countries are taking advantage of this labor unrest, and industry in the Asian nations is flexing its muscle to offer alternatives to manufacturing in China.<br /><br />In Europe, the engine that pumps the economy, Germany, is bemoaning the loss of labor as transient workers that filled the shops have returned to their native countries, which in turn are bidding to be part of the industrial market and to compete ironically with Germany.<br /><br />I can&rsquo;t recall a recent Labor Day when there has been so much stress in the global workplace. I&rsquo;ve been sitting on the shore of a pleasant body of water located in New Hampshire watching others enjoy the warm water that always seems more delightful in September here in New England. It&rsquo;s so peaceful that it is hard to work up the energy needed to editorialize about Labor Day. So exercising my rights to a &ldquo;day of rest and celebration,&rdquo; I&rsquo;ve decided to pass on any pontificating about happenings in manufacturing and to just enjoy the end of summer.<br /><br />Follow us on Twitter at "ILS_for_Mnfg"<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, Korean powerhousenoemail@noemail.orgzapperAfter traveling 9000 miles in 16 hours, it is a bit much to present, over six days, three seminars on the current state of industrial laser material processing and to rub shoulders with CEOs of the leading South Korean laser system manufacturers. But you do what you have to in this global technology era.<br /><br />I was pleased to present my views on trends in the industrial laser material technology to several Korean audiences. The main event was participating in the 3rd International Microtech &ndash; MEMS Business Conference, a part of Laser Korea 2010. In return I had the opportunity to meet with several of the leading Korean manufacturers of industrial laser systems for both macro and <a href="http://http//">micro processing</a>.<br /><br />Over the years, Korean laser companies have been reticent in sharing market data with outsiders. On this trip I found these companies more willing to define and quantify their business and markets. I sensed a sort of frustration with some of the CEOs I met with in regard to their peers across the Yellow Sea in China. Several times the comparative size and strength of the Korean suppliers vis-à-vis their counterparts in China were called to my attention.<br /><br />The upshot is that in my <a href="http://http//">Annual Economic Review </a>I may have been underestimating the size and output of the Korean system manufacturers. While most of the information shared was oral, it wasn&rsquo;t hard to value the Korean industrial laser system business at $600-$700 million, a figure that surpasses the reported number from China. And more to the point, China, along with Taiwan, are the largest markets for Korean laser system exports.<br /><br />Because of this newfound cooperation, I expect to tweak my 2010 numbers as I begin to work on this year&rsquo;s economic report.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, 500

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