Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A walk down memory lane

Last week I was invited by Amada America Inc. to give a presentation on the history and the current status of laser sheet metal cutting in North America. Last week I was invited by Amada America Inc. to give a presentation on the history and the current status of laser sheet metal cutting in North America. Thirty-five years earlier I had the audacity to present this technology, as reality, to a disbelieving audience at the first National Modern Machining Processes Conference in Chicago. At this meeting not a single attendee knew what I was talking about.

At the Amada event when I asked how many in the audience were familiar with laser cutting, I was pleased that about half raised their hands. In more than three decades laser cutting has grown from a non-conventional fabricating process to become a key operation in thousands of plants across this country, with more than 11,000 units installed, many operating profitably in small job shops and major corporation assembly plants.

Four years after my introduction of laser sheet metal cutting, the first industrial unit (adapted to a turret punching system) was sold by Strippit and two years later Amada introduced the first standalone laser cutter. Progress in North America was with Japan and Europe leading in annual installations. About the mid-1990s, the U.S. fabricating industry began to appreciate the process and before long all of North America became a good market for the technology.

I don’t lay claim to being a Johnny Appleseed--sowing the knowledge of laser cutting across this land on fertile but untouched ground--but I believe I played a role in its early days, and the eventual success is very self-satisfying. It’s not too common for an individual to see the fruits of their early labor payoff so spectacularly. When it does, it makes thoughts of all those frustrating early years vanish.

I told my hosts at the Amada event that the research for my presentation was a walk down the memory trail; bringing back memories of all those individual and equipment suppliers who worked so hard to make laser cutting the largest revenue industrial laser system application today.

1 comment:

  1. In the midst of a tough market I visited Eastec 2009 in Springfield, MA and found that the laser marking companies were out in force. I counted at least 13 different companies with laser marking offerings. This included both galvo and gantry companies.

    This showing caused me to ask the question, “has laser marking progressed along the technology adoption curve far enough to make it more broadly applicable and acceptable to a larger less technical customer base?”

    A few thoughts on the way to an answer (hopefully).

    The price of entry into the fiber laser marking market continues to go down.

    Laser marking companies seems to think the old strategies for reaching customers still work.

    From my seat all of these companies pitched very similar products with predictable messages. The large companies talked about their quality and service, the small ones talked about their low pricing and responsiveness and the ones in middle complained about the other two.

    Most of these companies are essentially middlemen for the laser technology developers and in the age of the internet we all know what happens to middlemen – don't we?

    Where are the blogs, online communities, Twitter posts, user groups etc. from this market?

    Is there no laser USERS community out there to for laser companies to provide what Jeff Jarvis calls an “elegant organization”?

    The thought that kept coming back to me was that someone very soon will find a way to change the game in the laser marking world and deliver laser technology at a low enough price to challenge other marking technologies like dot-peen, ink, and pad printing. They will probably do it by using information technology along with a radical new business organization to drive even more people toward lasers for their marking needs.

    This will be good news for the laser industry in that overall the market will grow but will be bad news for those companies that cannot see past their static and staid ways of approaching the marketplace.

    Todd Hockenberry