by Keng H. Leong
September 17, 2012 - Driving in from the southwest Chicago suburbs on I-55 around mid-morning on Sept. 11 to attend the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), the usual rush hour backup was mostly avoided except for the tail end of a crash near the Damian off-ramp. Arriving at the McCormick Center, parking lots A and B were closed (full?) and I was diverted to Lot C a mile south with no shuttle -- not a good thing to start the day! Fortunately, I had some residential stickers from my daughter who lives in the south loop north of McCormick. Better to walk six blocks than a mile.
According to one of the McCormick staff, they were expecting attendance of 90,000 for IMTS. The second day was busier than the opening and there was substantial traffic in all three halls, but not to the extent that you had to push through the aisles.
The laser-related displays were scattered around three aisles in McCormick's North Hall with two in the south hall among the robotic displays. Rofin and Trumpf had their usual displays with lasers, systems and components, but IPG was absent. Coherent had a spartan booth with just an enclosed cutting table for its sealed CO2 laser. There were no really new introductions from these laser manufacturers.
There were few laser cutting systems on display. Fanuc had extensive displays of robots and controls including a 2kw Fanuc CO2 laser coupled to a small cutting table to demonstrate its control capabilities. K2 Laser, a Korean company, demonstrated its cutting system capabilities with a 500 W fiber laser; systems with up to 2 kW are available. Jenoptik introduced its new 3-D laser cutting system using a 1 kW fiber laser with a 5-axis robot arm. The fiber laser output is coupled into a custom-designed arm with integrated optics and cutting head and no fiber is manipulated. Higher accuracy and flexibility are achieved.
EOS demonstrated its laser additive manufacturing (rapid prototyping) capabilities using laser sintering with an operating system, building a component and showing samples of very intricate designs such as cooling components and implants. They were collocated with Agie Charmilles in the south hall. In contrast, in the north hall ExOne had displays of macro-components such as a rocket nozzle built up with a non-laser powder printing system.
IMTS usually has quite a number of laser marking companies. This year, there was a smaller number but with larger booths and attractive displays of their products. Many markers on display were American-made and serviced (e.g. Laserstar, Markfirst, Telesis) and foreign-made markers were in the minority. With insignificant cost disadvantage and local service advantage, it is no surprise that American-made marking systems are dominating.
Although expo traffic was substantial, there did not appear to be as strong an interest in the lasers compared to the nonlaser products. A free personalized laser-marked pen attracted many (including this observer) to a marking display, but most did not express serious interest. Many of the overall laser displays had attendees walk by with not much expression of interest, either. The scattering of the laser products among the nonlaser ones and the fact that most attendees' interests are in the non-laser field probably exacerbated the situation.
Dr. Keng H. Leong (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a laser materials processing consultant and an Editorial Advisor to Industrial Laser Solutions.