Big wheel keeps on turning

You may ask what I am doing on the harborside in Yokohama on a lovely spring afternoon. I could be at Fenway rooting for Daisuke or, better yet, preparing for a long holiday like most Japanese who, celebrating Golden Week, are lemming-like headed for somewhere else.

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The Japanese economy has rebounded, business is good, and European and US suppliers are checking out this market.

You may ask what I am doing on the harborside in Yokohama on a lovely spring afternoon. I could be at Fenway rooting for Daisuke or, better yet, preparing for a long holiday like most Japanese who, celebrating Golden Week, are lemming-like headed for somewhere else. Yokohama and the annual Laser Expo is the venue chosen to introduce the new Industrial Laser Solutions-Japan (ILS-J), the latest in a growing global franchise.

My publishing associate in Japan, Manami Konishi, produced a spectacular inaugural issue of ILS-J. It is packed with industrial laser processing information and, better yet, advertisements from leading Japanese product suppliers and international companies interested in selling their products into one of the hottest new markets this year.

I can report, with the authority of a reader survey we conducted, that ILS-J is filling a void in the industrial laser market by describing the international experiences of users and suppliers in their market sectors. It looks like we timed the market penetration correctly, as a number of suppliers I interviewed at the show spoke about the information needs of potential laser users in Japan.

Laser Expo was also an opportunity for me to meet with suppliers bringing new technology for developing applications to the international market. I learned about disk vanadate laser marking systems, femtosecond laser surface-treatment machines, and a fiber disk laser. The latter, a side-pumped fiber wound as a spiral disk, can produce up to 1 kW from a compact rack-panel-mounted resonator package. This unit has sufficient beam quality to make fine cuts in thin-gauge metal.

I also learned about the domestic auto industry’s increasing use of remote laser welding, both CO2 and fiber laser, examples of which will appear in later issues of ILS.

Several exhibitors I met 30 years ago on my first trip to Japan, so it was pleasant to renew acquaintances. One of these, a manager at a company I visited, shared his views of the sheet-metal laser cutting market as we compared statistics, which were remarkably close for two independent sources. Summaries of these numbers will appear in the ILS January Annual Economic Review.

The fortunes of Japanese equipment suppliers have turned positive as the domestic economy has rebounded from a two-year drought, and business is good and expected to sustain at a good growth clip for the near term. This may be the reason several suppliers are positioning new equipment for the international markets, reversing a long period of lack of innovative products from Japan.

International suppliers have picked up on the rising fortunes in the Japanese market. Many companies from the USA and Europe, represented by local trading companies and distributors, showed their products at the show, some for the first time. One example is a leading maker of laser-engraving systems. In the past these systems have not found much acceptance in Japan, a country that still relies on its craftsman to make awards and gifts but is now looking at automated engraving.

According to ILS, the Japanese contribution to the industrial laser market in Asia is about 75 percent of revenues. So just like it was in the 1990s, the big wheel keeps on turning and the industry keeps on rolling.

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David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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