2018 still looks to be a great year for lasers

Once again, the laser industry is outstripping even the medical device industry, which is booming.

Feb 20th, 2018
Content Dam Lfw Bios O T Ron Schaeffer

During the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar held in conjunction with SPIE Photonics West 2018, it was mentioned several times how Lumentum stock had taken a hit. On November 24, 2017, it was trading at over $60 per share, but by the time of the Seminar it had fallen to about $43 per share. I was daydreaming during the talks and thinking of pulling all of my money and putting it on Lumentum stock because I could not really think of a good reason for the stock to be so low. Today, it is trading at about $60 per share again and I could have realized a 50% return in about a month! Another missed opportunity? Well, I guess that is why I am not a trader for a living. Simultaneously, Coherent stock has taken a hit in the last few weeks, but IPG Photonics is up 25%.

The Nasdaq composite was about 7500 on January 26th and tanked to about 6800 on February 8th—a 10% drop in a few days. However, today the composite index is back up to almost 7300 (the S&P 500 followed a similar trend) and I do not see any reason to assume that the trend will not continue. I usually do a follow-up blog for the MD&M West show in Anaheim, CA, but this year I waited an extra week after the show because I wanted to see how the stock market in general was doing, and so far the answer is that it is doing fine!

The MD&M West show this year was another great success. All of the vendors had positive things to say about the show and its history of producing quality leads. In all of this atmosphere of positivity, though, I did hear one comment time and again: "This show is really busy, but not nearly as busy as last week (Photonics West)." Once again, the laser industry is outstripping even the medical device industry, which is booming. The construction around the convention center has been non-stop for years now and the whole goal is to accommodate bigger and bigger conferences, so I can only assume this show will continue to grow.

I always see new companies at the MD&M West show claiming to be the experts in laser micromachining, or UV or ultrashort-pulse (USP) lasers. In many cases, I see them year after year. There are also laser vendors at the show and they are primarily there to attract the OEMs, as it is somewhat difficult for laser manufacturers to break into some of the big medical device companies without an integrator who already has their foot in the door. A first-time exhibitor this year is NKT Photonics, and I talked to Anthony (Tony) Pisano about NKT and their interests.

NKT Photonics is a supplier of high-performance fiber and solid-state lasers, fiber-optic sensing systems, and photonic-crystal fibers. Its main markets are in imaging, sensing, and material processing, and its innovative products include ultrafast lasers, supercontinuum white light lasers, low-noise fiber lasers, and distributed temperature sensing systems. This year was the first time the company exhibited at this event, and its representatives were very impressed with the potential sales leads among system integrators and main primes. The company was promoting primarily two femtosecond-based products at the show: Origami XP (IR and visible, 40 µJ, 4 W, single shot to 1 MHz; this product is from the Onefive acquisition) and aeroPULSE (fundamental wavelength, 20 µJ, 20–40 W, single shot to 20 MHz, all fiber).

Some other observations Tony shared with me as a first-time exhibitor were:

  • Consolidation of large systems integrators (ILT, Laserage, etc.) may affect one-off laser sales into some of the main market segments for FY18 and beyond;
  • It is difficult to penetrate into the primes (Boston Scientific, Medtronic, etc.) without key system integrators;
  • Resonetics in particular has shown very impressive expansion, as its acquisition of Mound Laser was certainly the start of something noticeable;
  • Tony is very interested in the total USP market for 2018 and 2019—can we put a number on this?
  • Picosecond 'black' marking of medical devices is hot and Trumpf has a turnkey machine for this; and
  • After years of whisperings, it seems IPG is really coming to market with their picosecond and femtosecond lasers.

So, the next big laser event is the Laser Institute of America's LAM/LME conference in Schaumburg, IL, during the week of March 26th. It should be a great time and I am expecting the atmosphere to remain very upbeat. This is a great venue to meet and talk with laser industry experts in a more informal and less-hectic environment than, for instance, Photonics West. And, as a final thought, thanks to Neil Ball for arranging the Laser Professionals dinner in Newport Beach during the MD&M West show. About 30 people showed up—many competitors in one way or another—but we can easily put aside any competitive nature for fellowship within the laser industry. Come to LAM/LME and experience this fellowship firsthand!

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 rschaeffer@photomachining.com.

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