There is a storm a brewing

Snow did not stop our intrepid blogger from attending SPIE Photonics West and MDM West.

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I just returned home this past weekend from two weeks in California, attending both the SPIE Photonics West and MDM West conferences.

SPIE Photonics West continues to grow at a decent rate (about 5% per year), and there were over 21,000 in attendance this year. In my short course on Laser Micromachining, there were about 25 people in attendance. I was told that this total was among the highest number of people in any of the classes, which normally average about 12 people.

Since the course is specifically on micromachining, and by virtue thereof contains a lot of information on both short wavelength and ultrashort pulse (USP) lasers, this seems to be a good indicator that one of the high-interest areas at the show was USP lasers. Indeed, it seems that everywhere you looked, there were laser companies, optics companies, integrators, and fabricators all promoting their USP technology, hardware and applications.

For the past three years, I have dedicated myself to walking the whole floor, but each year I have failed because there are so many meetings (both planned and unplanned) that seem to consume the available time. Dr. Michael Mielke of Raydiance posted an excellent BLOG called “Industrial Lasers Dominated Photonics West” this past weekend on his company’s web site, and I will quote one of his conclusions:

“But the biggest takeaway? L-A-S-E-R-S. Specifically, industrial femto lasers are being fully embraced by the mainstream players—and that’s good news for the future of precision manufacturing.”

I would like to congratulate Raydiance especially because the company is really getting the word out there concerning USP and, in particular, femtosecond laser machining through their many articles and BLOGS.

Now, to the stormy part! During the weekend, a number of people went to Lake Tahoe area (at the invitation of Dr. Silke Pflueger, member of the ILS Editorial Board and author of the recent primer on diode lasers) for what I call the “German Ski Weekend”. It had not snowed all year in California, but of course during the time we all had to drive there, it snowed for 4 days!

For me, the next stop was Anaheim for the Medical Device Manufacturing (MDM) show. At this show as well, it was amazing to see the number of new laser machining and marking companies that seem to spring up every year. Of these companies, most are now advertising at least some expertise in USP lasers.

The show seemed like it had good attendance, but several of the vendors hinted to me that they might not be there next year since the MDM venue has been highly diluted the last few years. Only a few years ago, there were the East Coast (June) West Coast (January/February) and Minneapolis (October) shows. Now, there are MDM shows in Chicago and many other cities in the US, which is good for those who cannot attend the national events, but really affects vendors since they cannot be everywhere. In fact, one of the problems is in choosing the right shows to attend in order to get the maximum “bang for the buck”.

Back to the storm! To make a long story short, because of the heavy snow first in the Southeast and then moving into the Northeast, many people got “stuck” in CA for 3 to 5 days longer. OK, if you have to get “stuck” somewhere, you can do worse than southern CA. However, since it was Valentine’s Day and a long holiday weekend (and, in my case, my wife’s birthday), getting home became a bit more important.

So, I imagine that as I write this, there are still some folks just getting back home from MDM West. I did it the hard way and flew to Chicago, rented a car, and drove the 20 hours back to New Hampshire.

Next week is the first Laser Conference for the Caribbean held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on February 26 to 27. I doubt we will get snowed in, but if any bad weather occurs, I guess that it might not be too terrible to spend a few extra days there.

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts concerning laser micromachining, the laser industry, comments on entrepreneurial endeavors, etc. AND … we are always looking for fresh, publishable material. Please feel free to contact me at


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