Many have followed me, for more than 10 years, in these blogs and for 34 years on the pages of Industrial Laser Solutions, so, as in past years, I wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year.
I’m not sure how many of you have been with me since 1986, when Industrial Laser Solutions' predecessor was founded. And I think those who were with me in 1970, when I started, are mostly not active in industrial laser material processing technology today.
Yes, that’s right—2020 will mark my 50th year in this exciting technology. I trace my roots back to a group of industry professionals, gathered together at American Optical Corporation (AO), in that company’s first intrapreneurial (funded off the company’s P&L books, part of the Research Division annual budget) venture. The mission of this Laser Products Department (LPD) was to establish an industrial laser market for the company’s internally developed (IP) scientific lasers. LPD was given three years to reach a corporate pre-set revenue generation level, which at the time, with the total global industrial laser market an undocumented $2 million, was a formidable task.
LPD was not successful profit-wise for reasons attributable to adjusted corporate budget restraints and a slower manufacturing industry acceptability than anticipated, so the parent corporation recommended we sell off the venture. But we had made gained prominence by producing world-class applications developments.
Proof of LPD's premise is that the sold-off neodymium solid-state business continued pioneering AO-developed applications and the newly formed Laser Inc. morphed into Coherent General, now part of a $1.5 billion global laser market. The nascent LPD CO2 laser cutting business, which became Ferranti Electric, Inc., introduced laser sheet metal cutting into North America, which is now a $2 billion laser business globally.
Bill Shiner (now with IPG Photonics) and I are the only members of the original AO group still active in industrial laser materials processing. While recently attending an advisor’s meeting to the Optical Heritage Museum (Southbridge, MA), we were asked to put together a list of the industrial applications that LPD developed and the current state of these accomplishments in today’s industrial manufacturing sectors. We identified 28 industrial developments the applications lab under me and with Bill the Applications Manager pioneered. Among these are drilling medical glass tubing, cutting carpet material, drilling baby bottle nipples, continuous slitting paper, drilling diamonds, drilling surgical needles and implantables, and drilling micron hole fluid filters and aerosol nozzles, to name a few still in common usage.
Now entering the 35th year of publication, the magazine I co-founded, now Industrial Laser Solutions, continues the mission established in 1986—to educate manufacturing professionals to the technical and cost advantages of industrial laser material processing. As I edit the cutting-edge articles contributed to Industrial Laser Solutions, I think back to those very early days when each successful application was cause for a celebration. Now it’s commonplace, but rarely earth-shattering—at least that’s how we viewed it then.