Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A fresh new year with great promise

The first couple of weeks in a new year can be invigorating. Just turning the calendar page to January gives one the feeling that there are twelve of these ahead, each one a fresh page to fill up with good happenings. After this short period of euphoria, reality usually sets in and all those little details that did not get done over the holidays start showing up, and before you know it you are back in the same mode as before the holidays. I call this my "inauspicious" time, a period when I have to work just a little harder to get back the energy it will take to move forward. It only lasts a brief time, because news starts to flow (most of it good right now), and we have the all-important Photonics West (PW) trade show looming two weeks away.

Photonics West tends to be an optimistic trade show attached to a large technical conference that is heavily populated by technical people who seem to thrive so much on the sessions they attend that they can't let go and you find them everywhere still talking about the last technical paper they attended.

We who will be in San Francisco for the trade show however are so busy making contacts and exchanging marketing news that it’' almost like we are in a different world than those attending the conference sessions. After a decade in San Jose we will be spending the week in one of the pleasantest cities in the world. We'll miss the dinners at Original Joes and lunch at Il Fornio, but San Francisco has so many choices we won't lack for good social venues.

PW, as I said, has always been an upbeat show. Maybe it's more of that fresh year, new calendar page stuff but it has always produced more positive than negative news. Last year the exhibitors who were featuring laser products for scientific, military, and research markets had a great show, while the few industrial laser product suppliers did not. PW is expanding the numbers of exhibitors that fit this description, as the Mosconi Center offers more space than the overstuffed San Jose Convention Center. So we will all be gauging the next six months for industrial lasers on what we hear and see at the show.

Many of you will have already heard that 2009 was a miserable year in the industrial laser world markets, except for China which rebounded at the half-way point due to timely and well placed stimulus spending by their government. I'll be presenting the industrial laser market economic review and forecast on Monday of PW week at the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar and it won't be a fun time. My report on 2009 will be grim as a worldwide recession in manufacturing completely stultified the market, especially for high-power laser systems, used mostly for cutting metal.

The impact of a major slowdown in this market cuts across all the market numbers because these systems represent more than 50% of all industrial laser revenues; a loss of one-third of a billion dollars from the laser systems supplier's revenues hits the entire supplier base, laser manufacturers, systems integrators, and the suppliers of all the ancillary precuts that go into these. I begin to tell you about the fallout from this one market sector as it was painful for so many companies, their employees, and their suppliers.

But, it's a new year and the news is already much better. Here in North America the laser cutting system suppliers are expecting a 19% increase in sales in 2010 after a 44% loss in 2009. This is a very doable number that can happen if the chips fall just right; a loosening on the part of the banks will stimulate some pent-up spending throughout the manufacturing chain and by the end of the first half of 2010 we should be seeing better times.

So a fresh 12 months on the calendar are full of promise.

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