I contributed my first article on laser innovations in manufacturing in the July 1983 issue of Laser Focus (as this magazine was then named). Now, 38 years later, my name again appears in this magazine. In the intervening years, I popped up occasionally on these pages, but spent 35 years—most of my editorial career—shepherding a sister publication, Industrial Laser Solutions (ILS).
In the interim years, magazine publishing has undergone some monumental changes. Thus, you are reading ILS in a new format as a section in Laser Focus World (LFW). ILS’ inaugural issue in LFW offers the opportunity to take a more philosophical look at industrial lasers in manufacturing today and what tomorrow might bring. Dr. Bo Gu, a laser industry consultant and ILS Editorial Advisor, posits that China is the key to laser growth in global manufacturing (see article). In 2019, the Chinese laser market was $9.8 billion—up 8.8% from 2018. Recovering quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic, its laser industry is expected to grow at around 5% in 2020, which will pass the $10-billion mark. In the next 5–10 years, China will invest about $5 trillion in eight areas: 5G network construction, artificial intelligence, Industrial Internet of Things, solar and wind, electric vehicles, autonomous driving, ultra-high voltage tower construction, and high-speed rail network construction. These will generate high demand for materials such as aluminum alloy, copper, carbon steel, and stainless steel, which in turn generate huge demand for laser equipment for cutting, welding, drilling, marking, cladding, cleaning, and micromachining. The goal is to use industrial laser material processing to surpass America’s economic aggregate. Bo and others suggest that globalization gives more advantages to China and therefore it may be necessary to decouple China from U.S. not just economically, but technologically and financially.
One of Bo’s solutions deals with supply chain: Companies should diversify their supply bases, identify potential alternative sources of critical components and materials, and even redesign products to make their supply chains more resilient. In her contribution to ILS, Dr. Irene Petrick writes that countries and companies, in pursuit of resilience, have been considering more localized supply chains to avoid geopolitical disruptions (see article). The COVID-19 pandemic focused attention on the weaker elements of traditional supply chains—those driven by labor shortages, production disruptions, and an emphasis on globally sourced lower margin parts. Economies of scale production favoring outsourcing and offshoring are being reexamined in light of companies’ needs to be more resilient. Efficiency is no longer enough, she says—instead, the ability to sense change earlier than the competition, respond to these changes, and to pivot will be critical differentiators.