March 2018: Out like a lion or a lamb?

The Laser Institute of America's collocated conferences, LAM and LME, were held in Schaumburg, IL last week.

Apr 2nd, 2018
Content Dam Lfw Bios O T Ron Schaeffer

The Laser Institute of America's collocated conferences, LAM (Laser Additive Manufacturing) and LME (Lasers for Manufacturing Event), were held in Schaumburg, IL last week.

The LAM conference continues to draw a few hundred people who are the core of the industrial laser additive manufacturing community, and attendees came from as far away as China, Australia, and Germany. Even though revenues in the laser additive manufacturing sector have grown over the last few years, the laser industry in general has also grown at about the same pace, so even though it is clear that in the future this revenue stream will gain in market share, it has not happened yet and total revenues related to LAM remain in the single-digit range. The quality of the presentations was in general very high and the feedback from attendees was overall positive. It will be interesting to watch this market segment over the next few years as it grows to fulfill its true potential.

The collocation with LME provided LAM attendees an opportunity to talk to vendors who were displaying their products and services on the show floor. Both Wednesday and Thursday of the show were filled with technical talks from throughout the day. Attendance at the talks was a few dozen people in general, but I am very happy to say that the Keynote Address I gave on Wednesday morning was standing room only—so it seems that everyone is curious about what to expect from the rest of 2018 and beyond. To summarize, 2018 should be at least a good year like 2017, and all indications from talking to vendors is that Q1 numbers will bear this out. I made the case that since the mid-term elections are upcoming, drastic change should not happen until after the elections—and then we will see what happens as, if the present administration should lose one or both houses, economic stagnation could result. In the meantime—like the Trump administration or not—they are removing barriers that have unequally stymied growth of small businesses and the stock market continues to climb (with, of course, periodic adjustments).

While the number of just LME attendees was not high, there were good-quality leads and most of the small companies felt the venue was worth the time and cost. However, compared to the big events like FABTECH, SPIE Photonics West, and IMTS, many of the larger companies—with larger booths and lots of employees milling around in the booths--did not get the number of leads they need to continue to support at least larger booths as presently. One thing everyone agreed on is that the return to Schaumburg was a much better venue than the Atlanta venue at the last LME conference. Another thing everyone agreed on is that it was easy to get as much face time with any vendor as any customer could want unlike big venues like SPIE Photonics West, where everyone is scrambling around during the whole show. We will see where and when a next LME might be located. There is some talk that there might be some joint venture with one or more of the other societies. Stay tuned!

There were two evening tours on Wednesday night—one at Prima Power and one at the Trumpf smart manufacturing facility. I could not attend both, so I attended the Trumpf venue—frankly only because I thought I should be there if I was going to write about it. However, the tour surpassed my expectations. There was unlimited food and drink, including alcohol, and the 80+ attendees were invited to roam the facility at will. This was amazing, as there were robots scooting around and nobody monitoring anything. For fun, some of us were stepping in front of the robots to see if they would run us over--but they were 'smart' enough not to even cause anyone to spill a drink. I did not realize from the pre-show promos that this facility is a showroom, yes--but also a working job shop that actually pays for itself by making parts for Trumpf as well as outside customers. It includes both lasers and non-laser machinery, all made by Trumpf.

I will be attending four more venues in the next few weeks—Biomed Devices in Boston (April 18-19), OPIC – Optics and Photonics put on by SPIE in Japan (April 23–27) and AKL in Germany (May 2-4), followed by CLEO in San Jose (May 14-18). I have reported on three of these in the past and will do so again. The SPIE venue in Japan is new to me and as it will be my first time in Japan in over 20 years, I am looking forward to being in the country and having dinner with fellow ILS Editorial Advisory Board Member Dr. Kunihiko Washio. Too bad I will be there a bit too late for Cherry Blossom festival!

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 rschaeffer072657@gmail.com.

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