Munich show surprises doom-and-gloom forecasters

Marking and engraving dominate laser applications exhibits

I'm writing this editorial at the end of a successful LASER 2003. It's late in the afternoon, and I'm one of the last journalists in Munich Messe Press Center. I came here to pick up the final show press release and to use the center's computer terminal to access the Internet.

LASER 2003 drew more than 20,000 visitors, a six-percent increase over 2001. You could almost hear a sigh of relief from the show organizers, who had collectively held their breath because other European trade shows have experienced serious declines in attendance. I guess German laser enthusiasts, as well as 40 percent (up 14 percent) of the visitors from outside Germany, are true believers in this laser fair.

To this observer, exhibits in the industrial laser hall looked like marking was the dominant laser application. I counted at least 37 exhibitors showing laser marking or engraving systems, and several others referred to marking in their booth signage. I found 20 new companies that I added to the ILS marking/engraving database, which now totals 185 companies. Readers will want to check out the new Supplier Showcase on laser marking/engraving that premieres in the September issue.

As to other laser products, several are mentioned in the Update section of this issue and several more will be the subjects of future ILS editorial. Munich is the place to see new technology that will migrate to the U.S. in about a year. Although this timetable seems to have accelerated as suppliers try to stimulate the buying market with tempting new products.

Exhibitors at Munich, up eight percent over 2001, were generally optimistic about business prospects, but I have a more conservative viewpoint, having seen such optimism previously in Europe, flying in the face of reality. Regardless, the sheer magnitude of industrial laser activity in Europe is impressive. This year, contrary to the past, there were more Italian suppliers than Russian, perhaps a sign that the technology in that latter country, usually a substantial exhibitor, is diminishing.


The world of industrial laser processing is saddened by the death of Jim Rockwell, an industry veteran, and one of the most important figures in laser safety. A friend had a term for those individuals who passed his test for acceptability, referring to them as "good people." Believe me, this was a hard-won accolade, which tended to limit his circle of close friends.

Well, Jim was certainly "good people," I first met him through the Laser Institute of America (LIA) where he served in various functions, including the presidency. In the early 1970s, Jim believed strongly that the LIA should be the leading resource for laser safety in U.S. and in the world, and he worked long and hard to see that this happened. I could always ask Jim for assistance and he gave it willingly.

I served on many speaking panels in those days advocating the introduction of laser technology into the manufacturing sector. Jim also participated in a number of these, and I used to cringe when he showed slides of laser injuries that had occurred in laboratories, believing then that any negative publicity would inhibit the industrial growth of the technology. After the sessions, I would caution him to tone it down a little but Jim would say, "Dave, we've got to get these issues out now so that this technology can move ahead without any unpleasant surprises later." And you know, he was right.

Jim was a big man, physically as well as philosophically. He had this deep voice that he modulated most of the time so that he did not appear overwhelming. But when he spoke out on a contentious issue, he could reach down deep to cower the opposition with his booming baritone. Yes, Jim was "good people" and his presence, wisdom and council will be missed.

David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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