Monday, April 11, 2011

Lasers not so unusual any more

The news early this week is more pessimistic than optimistic, but not enough to cause any media newsbreaks. Stalemates in Afghanistan and Libya, one step forward and one back in Fukushima, and the U.S. Congress kept the government from shutting down, just as most of us knew they would after a lot of posturing.

On a much smaller scale than these events, business in the industrial laser sector is great, sort of contrary to all the dull international and national news. China’s trade balance went negative, ho hum, in sectors not impacting laser sales. Yes, Japan has yet to get their industries perking again and that’s not good, but not news. Industry in the U.S. and Europe are still on an upward arc, even though the latter is coping with a bailout in Portugal.

So the past weekend was peaceful and quiet except for the concern for the Red Sox losing streak; two out of three wins over the Yankees ended that. So my only temporary concern was for the poor golfer who blew a 12 stroke lead in the Masters and plunged out of site on the scoreboard. With a gaggle of very good golfers in the hunt at the end, his disappearance went unnoticed.

Do you ever get the feeling that things are too stable and that something will upset the quiet this week? I’ll be participating in SALA, the Symposium for Advanced Laser Applications, where among my duties I have the pleasure of hosting the Innovation Award for Laser Applications in Manufacturing Operations. I haven’t seen the acceptance speech by the awardee, Dr. Marshall Jones from GE, but I hope that he will mention the impact that the laser technology he championed had on GE to make it more productive and competitive. Because this is typical of what pulled U.S. manufacturing out of the recession so rapidly, manufacturers here are the most productive among industrialized nations.

Here productivity equates to automation and automation is almost connected to the word laser. For the first decade of this technology, equipment sellers were hesitant to use the word automation, as it raised warning signal with unions. Then, as the threat of automation on the job market seemed to disappear, global competiveness made it an antidote for low labor cost competition.

Laser fit nicely into automation systems, and low operating cost and maintenance free operation make them attractive for multi-shift operations.

One aspect that I think has helped is that the mystique of the laser has all but disappeared as tens of thousands of units are operating around the world, many in plants where they are no longer considered unusual. And that is a good thing.

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