The laser industry is robust

The photonics industry in general is very robust and, in fact, more robust than the economy in general.

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As I mentioned last year in my follow-up to SPIE Photonics West, the photonics industry in general is very robust and, in fact, more robust than the economy in general, as pointed out by editor-in-chief David Belforte in his recent blog. This is true worldwide. Also, the laser micromachining market—particularly using ultrafast-pulse (UFP) lasers—is once again a rapidly growing industry sector. There continues to be some consolidation in the industry, with a few larger companies not traditionally associated with micromachining looking for smaller companies with expertise in UFP lasers to acquire.

Coherent had two booths at Photonics West 2017 (Coherent and their recent acquisition Rofin both had reserved booths, so there were essentially two Coherent booths). The booths were somewhat divided into "lasers" and "applications." Coherent, which had not had a booth at MDM West for many years, had a booth this year from the Rofin legacy (see below). They seem to be getting more into the applications space than they have been in the past by virtue of the Rofin portfolio.

I was invited to a screening at the Dolby Vision studio on Market Street in San Francisco. I must admit that it has been years since I was last in a theater, but certainly what I saw (and heard) was like nothing I have seen before. After a trailer describing the technology, the John Goodman movie 10 Cloverfield Lane was shown. It is sort of an apocalyptic horror movie, but the visual and audio effects were unbelievable. You could actually feel the movie—not just see and hear it. In fact, my body was still quivering while the credits rolled, and I actually had to sit for 10 minutes or so just to get back into a normal biorhythm. Dolby Laboratories, Christie, and Necsel (collaborators on this technology) were honored at the Photonics West 2016 Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation with an award in the Displays & Lighting category for the firms' collaboration on the Dolby Vision laser projection system.

The Dolby Vision projection system uses state-of-the-art optics and image processing to deliver high dynamic range with enhanced color technology and a high contrast ratio. Yes, folks—brought to you courtesy of advances in photonics and lasers!

The exhibition has grown so large that once again, I did not have time to see everything, let alone get to see many of the technical talks. Unfortunately, this year I was among the many participants who were fighting the flu during the whole time I was on the road.

Also this year, California had something that they usually do not have—water, and lots of it. It rained (and, at the higher elevations, snowed) pretty much every day I was there. You can turn on the news and see a manifestation of the problem at the Oroville Dam.

The following week, MDM West was held in Anaheim and, as usual, the laser community—especially laser micromanufacturing—had a strong presence. As described above, Coherent had a large presence for the first time in many years, mostly attributed to the Rofin portfolio. IPG, Trumpf, and Han's Laser (rounding out the $4 billion laser companies) also had presence at this show. A few other laser companies were present, but for the most part systems and service providers were more noticeable. Everyone that I talked to told me that this year was the best show in years, with respect to the number and quality of the leads.

Finally, the Laser Institute of America (LIA) had a booth at Photonics West and many of us had thought that by Photonics West time, there would be an announcement regarding the replacement of Peter Baker as executive director, as Peter is retiring as of April 1st. Many people have asked me what is the status, and the fact is that I do not know! We are all awaiting the announcement of the new leader of this very important organization and the future plans for growing this society.

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

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