On March 1, 2020, the global industrial laser community will experience the retirement of another industry pioneer/stalwart, Bill Shiner, who for 58 years has been an enthusiastic, outspoken advocate for industrial laser material processing.
Bill and I have a long history, starting in 1971, when a tight group of zealots who had formed American Optical (AO) Corporation’s first intrapreneurship, the Laser Products Group, charged me as the Director of Marketing and Applications to select an Applications Laboratory Manager. An internal search identified a member of the company’s medical activities, Bill Shiner, who had the right technical background and, it turned out, inquisitive mind to seek out applications for the Group's first ‘industrial laser’ that had just racked up a continuous million pulses (a record at that time), which made it suitable for serial manufacturing operations.
Working together, Bill and I discovered, and proved feasible, a long list of industrial applications, which for the most part were good laser processing opportunities. I learned quickly that Bill had a keen eye for a potential application when we would visit and tour manufacturing plants and before we left, Bill would have found at least one, and sometimes multiple, high-probability laser opportunities. This sixth sense was, in my mind, what always set Bill apart from his peers—there never was a laser processing opportunity he didn’t like. This was a trait he showed his entire career in laser processing. The list of applications he personally found and proved feasible over his career is long and rich with industry firsts.
When AO shut down the Southbridge Laser Product Group, Bill and his partner Al Battista took that company's solid-state laser products private as Laser, Inc. and I took the movable CO2 laser product as Ferranti Electric Inc. and separately, we set up adjoining new businesses in Sturbridge, MA. In a building we shared, we opened a door between our facilities and Laser, Inc. started building CO2 laser power supplies for my laser sheet metal cutting development and, when needed, they supplied the manpower to beef up my small staff when potential customers visited. Again, Bill’s enthusiasm for laser processing was a help as I introduced laser metal cutting into America.
Subsequently, Bill and Al sold Laser, Inc. to Coherent, Inc. and Coherent General was formed with Bill as Sales & Marketing Manager. I moved on into very high-power CO2 laser processing, so our paths diverged for a while. However, as we were both members of the Laser Institute of America (LIA), we joined up again in that organization’s Laser Processing Committee, which I chaired (we subsequently both became LIA Presidents—me in 1978 and Bill in 2007). Bill again showed his sense of the market with valued suggestions that strengthened the LIA’s position in the international laser community, such as the first U.S. industrial laser tradeshow. Under Bill’s strong and enthusiastic leadership, the LIA’s New England Chapter organized a number of high-attendance events that advanced laser processing technology in the area.
As President of the LIA, Bill convinced the Board of Directors to organize the first LIA Lasers In Manufacturing Event (LME)—a workshop, conference, and trade show. He personally delivered a significant potential users' attendance, which convinced the LIA to hold follow-up events. Typically, Bill, by sheer force of his personality and energy, filled a blank in promotion of laser processing technology.
Eventually, Bill moved on to newly formed IPG Photonics, where his unique talent to spot a potential fiber laser application and see it through to an industrial product was, in my mind, a prime reason for that company's climb to the top of the fiber laser market. Bill will leave IPG Photonics with a legacy of process and product possibilities.
So, here’s a salute to Bill Shiner, ‘the guy who never saw a potential laser application he didn’t like.’ I wish him the best in retirement—we’ll miss you, Bill.