Friday, January 21, 2011

Changing attitudes

When last I left you, we were riding out another nor’eastah (as they say down Maine), which ended up leaving 23 inches on the ground, followed by another 4, then 8 and as this is being written, another 8 inches. We’ve already passed the annual average snowfall with another 6 to 8 weeks to go before the weather pattern changes to warmer temperatures.

As you read this, I will be winging my way to milder climes in San Francisco for the annual Photonics West, the SPIE LASE Conference, and PennWell’s Laser and Photonics Marketplace Seminar.

In reverse order, at the Marketplace Seminar, I will be bringing positive news to a roomful of marketing executives, who already know that the tide has turned and business is very good. I’ll be showing them market numbers that suggest the industrial sector will return to pre-recession revenue levels a year ahead of what had been forecast. Suppliers are reporting record sales revenues and profits, and bookings at many are at an all-time high.

I was visiting with a system integrator who said his bookings through 2011 and into 2012 are a record and that his main problem is finding vendors to supply the company’s production demands. It seems we all joked about this situation when we in the depths of the recession, saying, "It’s a problem we won’t complain about” then.

My Seminar presentation is full of optimism, and I will back it up with my view of the industries being served by industrial lasers and their buying plans for the coming year. Even the solar cell business, which looks to be in a cyclical downswing, as some countries cut or drop subsidies, is positioned to work off the inventory as new markets open quickly. This is great for the laser business as this is a key industry for laser processing.

At the LASE conference, I will show the status of the fiber laser industry and how its growth potential will make it a dominant player in the indusial laser marketplace as early as next year. Fiber lasers, along with other solid-state lasers, dragged the laser market up to significant growth last year, but the big growth numbers were with fiber lasers, which will now continue to eat into solid-state sales, especially in microprocessing.

And, finally, I will be meeting with a cross-section of laser and component suppliers, all of which focus on the industrial market. Photonics West set records for exhibitors this year, and its character is changing a bit as visitors are feeling comfortable with their products. I fully expect to hear nothing but good news from those I interview as the timing of the recovery couldn’t have been better.

It will be a busy week, but the show and conferences will be upbeat and a pleasure to attend.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

Outside my window it is snowing hard. This is the third Nor’easter in 5 days, the first two being inconsequential, just 1 and 4 inches, respectively. But this one is, as we say here in New England, a "wicked storm", with 20+ inches already down and more to come.

Friends and colleagues across the pond in Western Europe know what I am writing about as they have had one of the worst winters for snow in decades, with some of them living in countries where snow depth records were set. I’ll be seeing many of them in a few days at Photonics West in San Francisco, and I am sure we’ll greet each other with outstretched hands showing the snow depth.

My good friend and SALA colleague, Bob Murray, tells me he and his wife, Pauline, fought their way up Interstate 84 from Danbury, Connecticut to East Hartford in 5 hours Saturday night. It’s only a 60-minute drive normally, but 8 inches of unplowed snow closed the highway, forcing a backroad detour. I can’t believe he left the warmer Hilton Head, S.C., for an old fashion Nor’easter this week.

Bob was calling to bring me up to date on SALA activities. (The 6th Annual Symposium for Advanced Laser Applications will be held in Hartford on April 13 to 14.) Registrations, sponsors, and tabletop reservations are coming in and the speaker’s panel is filling up. This year the Organizing Committee has taken a new tack: All speakers will be end users nominated by a panel of product suppliers. The plan is to meet the goal of being the first “end users” symposium, and attendees are being invited from all over North America. To accommodate those traveling long distances, SALA has been moved to the Sheraton Hartford and a block of rooms at an attractive rate will make attending economical.

The program has been arranged so that attendees can pick and choose sessions and combine this with time to meet and discuss projects with the exhibitors in an adjacent room. For example, there is a session on laser drilling, another on laser welding, and one on surface modification, cutting, additive manufacturing, coating removal and process control.

SALA will be an event where users can get the latest information on their processing activity, and those new to the technology can learn more about the processes and the economics of each as shared by the speakers who themselves are users.

ILS is deeply involved with SALA. I serve on the Organizing and Planning Committees and ILS is the exclusive media partner. So we are looking forward to this opportunity to meet with a diverse group of manufacturing professionals who share one interest: laser materials processing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Wiping the slate clean

It’s the first week of a new year/decade, and here in New England it started bright and sunny, with the temperature above normal. Outside my office, the remainders of an unexpected blizzard a week ago are just about gone as we enjoyed almost balmy temperatures last week, melting the 12 inches of snow on the ground.

I like to wipe the slate clean and forget about last year, just as I turn the calendar page and start the year with optimism, well founded this year as business prospects are looking up and good news abounds in the manufacturing sector. The Monday Wall Street Journal was full of good news, but the item I liked the best was headlined, "Big Firms Poised To Spend Again," which opened with “Big U.S. companies have cleaned up their balance sheets and, flush with cash (my emphasis), appear open to using it in 2011 on factories (again my emphasis), stores and even hiring (me again)." It’s a long article and I encourage readers to savor it.

What could be a better way to start the year than to read about companies primed to boost manufacturing in the US? If you weren't already feeling positive about a fresh new year, this will help you change your attitude.

Many of us charged with forecasting the economy, in my case that of the industrial laser community, were cautious in their year-end reports. There was an optimistic undertone, but conservatism engendered by world events and a little residual bruising after the recession led to a cautious modest growth forecast for 2011. My number is 14%, which isn’t far off the 18.10% CAGR of the market since 1970.

My roadmap for sustaining economic growth includes modest growth rates, led by applications in the medical device, display, semiconductor, energy, and aerospace industries. A return to solid double-digit growth in marking/engraving will bolster the solid state and CO2 numbers.

Application growth in laser assist manufacturing and the buying capacity of the BRIC markets will keep industrial lasers on an upward growth curve.

So my new year optimism is grounded in the reality that the pieces are all in place for a vibrant new year/decade.