Follow-up to SPIE Photonics West 2018: The best ever!

I think I have been at every Photonics West since the beginning and it is my personal feeling that this show was the best yet.

Ron Head Shot Lia 2018 Best

SPIE Photonics West 2018 started with the PennWell-sponsored Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar, where the state of the laser industry was discussed—see the January/February 2018 edition of ILS for David Belforte's article ( and closing My View column ( for a review of the industrial laser machining portion of the industry. The bottom-line takeaway is that the photonics industry in general is still more robust than the economy in general, and this is true in the U.S. and also pretty much worldwide.

According to Alan Nogee, the booming laser market in 2017 was led by a few key areas. For micromachining (defined as using lasers less than 1 kW), flat-panel displays (56%) and additive manufacturing (30%) helped to push micromaterials processing up almost 24%. In the macro arena, metal cutting (56%) and welding/brazing/cladding/additive (125%) helped push this market up over 48% in 2018. At the beginning of 2017, the forecast was for a very good year, but the laser industry outstripped all forecasts.

Industry giants IPG Photonics and Coherent were real leaders in the market growth. In the case of IPG, there was tremendous growth pretty much across the board. Coherent's growth and profitability were based largely on excimer laser processing of flat-panel displays, OLEDs, and lift-off. However, even if we take out the growth numbers for Coherent and IPG, the numbers still look very good.

A few years ago, a topic at the Marketplace Seminar was whether the industry was too fragmented and whether consolidation was on the horizon. I personally did not think this was a problem and, in fact, I wrote that it was a very good thing (see This year, there was no such talk at the Marketplace Seminar and everyone seemed to be fine with all the new companies sprouting up. As I said at the time, small companies are usually more innovative than larger companies, so the big players have found it to be much more cost-effective to buy small companies than to develop technology in-house.

OK, let's get to the show floor. It was packed pretty much all day Tuesday and Wednesday, and the traffic was even pretty brisk on Thursday when it is usually slower. I did not talk to one single person or company who did not think that this year the show was at least REALLY good, and many told me it was the best show ever. I think I have been at every Photonics West since the beginning and it is my personal feeling that this show was the best yet. I have taught my Laser MicroMachining course for almost 30 years now and I usually get anywhere from 10 to 30 attendees. Using a conservative number of about 12 per class registered, this means that over 360 people have attended this course.

There is a LOT of construction around Moscone and I was thinking before the show that this might be an issue, but the SPIE people did a great job of pulling everything together. I guess my only gripe is that the show is now so big that I have not been able to just walk the show for a few years now. In the past, I would take a day and just start at one end and finish at the other, but with all the meetings, classes, etc., it is just no longer possible for me to do that, even using all three available days. I would say, however, that the more typical thing for potential customers is to spend a day at the show and target meetings in line with needs. There are also lots and lots of opportunities to network off the show floor, such as the papers, poster sessions, and sponsored dinners and nightly affairs.

A number of people, myself included, stayed in California over the weekend after Photonics West to attend the MDM show in Anaheim. This is the most active medical device show probably in the world and I expect the upcoming week to be booming. Stay tuned for a follow-up next week.

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

More in Ron's Report