If it walks and quacks like a duck—it is!

If you wanted to see a hot application, then laser marking was your best bet at IMTS 2002

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I've logged a fair number of air miles since September 11, 2001. I've departed from innumerable air terminals, each with its own security procedures. Over the year I have methodically culled, from my traveling luggage, those items local security deemed questionable: nail files, Swiss army knives and so on.

I know which shoes and belts set off alarms and I never carry coins or a money clip. I usually leave my laptop home because I am tired of unpacking it and passing it to an inspector who already has a dozen others to look at. And I know I will have to take a photo with my camera to prove it's real, because I already have a half dozen shots of security guards in Munich.

So I felt reasonably security clear as I departed the medium-sized airport I use because security is an easier routine and delays are short.

However, even the best laid plans can go awry. The Federal takeover of security at my airport tightened routines, raising the bar on procedures as a small bullet-shaped laser pointer I carry that has cleared security in six countries and 12 states drew the guard's attention, forcing me to undergo an in-depth inspection while a supervisor was called to check the pointer out. She wanted to confiscate it until a security manager was called.

Frankly, they could have had the pointer, but it became a bit of an issue because it wasn't the laser but the bullet shape that raised concerns. And I wanted to learn why this should be. After minutes of delay, all agreed it could pass and I was on my way.

As I thought back on this humorous event, it occurred to me that post 9-11 we Americans have given up more of our freedom thanks to the actions of fanatics who have no respect for life.

At IMTS this year, attendance was down at least by 25 percent from the last show, due more to the current conditions in the marketplace than because of a fear of traveling. Although we did hear that substantial numbers of potential visitors, many from overseas, chose to pass on IMTS this year because, "The travel just wasn't worth the aggravation."

Now I'm not a flag waver who says we shouldn't let the #!*@& radicals win by showing fear, but I'm a realist. If I truly don't have to fly, I generally pass on it today.

Getting back to IMTS, if you came to see fabricating lasers, you might have noticed a smaller number of exhibitors. The industry leaders, Trumpf, Mazak and Bystronic were there, although with reduced-size exhibits, as were NTC America and Koike Aronson. Granted the laser sheet-metal market is slow right now, but the dearth of exhibitors had more to do with a fundamental shift in show emphasis by the industry's suppliers.

The issue with fabricating equipment suppliers seems to be the cost effectiveness of showing, every two years, in the Fabricating Pavilion at IMTS versus an expanded presence, every year, at Fabtech—a 100-percent fabricating equipment show. The coming months will see some serious dialog on this issue.

If you wanted to see a hot application, then laser marking was your best bet with at least 23 companies drawing larger numbers of visitors and gaining many orders for equipment. Suppliers of low-power lasers for other applications also drew well, including systems suppliers showing CO2 laser non-metal cutters. These companies said 2002 sales were up and that 2003 looks like a good year also.

So, although final attendance was down, a larger percentage of the laser exhibitors, mainly on the low-power side, had a good show, wrote some business and came away with good vibes for the future.

As this is being written, I'm about to board a flight home, on 9-11 of all days. I've cleared security because I put the laser pointer in my wife's makeup kit, where it looked like a lipstick.

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David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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