Monday, February 18, 2013

Photonics West features ultra-fast and fiber lasers

I’ve finally recovered from a rousing Photonics West (with a record attendance of more than 20,700 visitors) that, as usual for this early-in-the-year tradeshow, was optimistic and upbeat. Although their ranks are growing, industrial laser exhibitors at PW are still in the minority. For me, that’s great because I can cover this segment without leaving the show feeling like I had missed something important. Having said that, I will confess that I spent relatively little time in the North Hall compared to the South Hall where most of the industrial laser exhibitors were. At PW, there are two main halls containing over 1235 exhibitors, which were jam-packed with exhibits, many on table-tops only, giving the impression of a near-East bazaar. As a consequence, I may have missed some international companies that had products related to industrial lasers. Fortuitously, I had colleagues at the show and they will tip me off to any hidden gems I may have missed.

Centered in the South Hall was a powerhouse display of advanced industrial laser technology at the exhibits of IPG, Coherent, Trumpf, Jenoptik, and Newport. Setting aside the lure of fiber lasers, it was gratifying to see large and seemingly enthusiastic exhibit visitors checking out new ultra-fast pulse lasers that are being introduced into the market for industrial laser material processing. Many of these have appeared on the ILS Webpage and in the monthly Product Watch e-Newsletters.

Referring back to my opening paragraph, I use PW exhibit visits to the industrial laser product suppliers as a touchstone for what business prospects may look like in the first half of 2013. My overall impression reinforces what I presented in my Annual Market Review: very modest growth in the first half, followed by the start of a pickup in the 3Q and an active 4Q that will take suppliers into 2014 with a healthy backlog.

At the show, I asked company management if they were comfortable with a slower growth year. Their answer was that, having survived the Great Recession by leaning the companies down and investing in new products - which led the industry out of the slump and enabled them to roar back to pre-recession revenue and profit levels one year earlier than predicted - they intend to hold staffing and major investment levels. Company management essentially believed they were capable of meeting market demand in 2013 before they staff up for 2014. There are exceptions, such as IPG Photonics riding a boom in fiber laser sales, but for the most part, it’s a wait-and-see attitude for 2013.

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