Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Looked at manufacturing lately?

Lately, the media has been writing more than usual about U.S. manufacturing. It seems the word is out that manufacturing is:  A – on Washington’s hot list, B – poised to lead the country out of the doldrums, C – reaping the benefits of lean practices, D – benefiting from productivity leadership, E – a good place to work, and F – all of the above.

All of a sudden, manufacturing engineers are in the spotlight, and universities are touting curriculum changes that are attracting new students to what was once a “dirt-under-the-fingernails” type of occupation. Recognition of the need for these engineers has occurred in government, academia, and industry organizations; they are a little late, one could argue, but at least there is awareness at all levels, a necessary and positive action that gets media attention.

Many decades ago, a group from the laser industry was invited by the U.S. Department of Commerce to present state-of-the -technology and to suggest ways in which that department could assist in growing what was then a nascent industry. This was long before the Fraunhofer model of government/academic/industry cooperative projects was even conceived. This laser industry group did not appear with hands out for federal funding; they simply thought that government recognition of this industry at the highest level might be the catalyst for faster growth. No funds were sought, only the suggestion that a statement by the president that this technology was important to the U.S. and that all government departments should cooperate to the extent allowed to smooth the path for this industry to grow.

The statement didn’t happen. It seems that the party in power was more influenced by corporate loathing for government involvement (with the attendant bureaucratic regimens), than to look to Washington for assistance. Several decades later, the current president did pretty much what the naïve laser group had proposed. Time will tell if they had the right idea.

In the meantime, manufacturing is on a roll in the U.S., and industrial lasers are riding with it.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Industrial laser market meets forecast

As this is being written, I am waiting out the end of a particularly nasty, late winter northeaster that has dumped a foot of heavy, wet snow on the region. It's sort of Mother Nature's last slap at us before the start of Spring next week. I won't bore you with details, but the Winter of 2012/2013 will be close to the top in snowfall records.

Speaking of records, the last of the 4QCY12 reports are in, and reviewing the results for industrial laser industry leaders, such as Coherent, IPG Photonics and Rofin, I do not see any compelling reason to make a significant change in the ILS 2012 Annual Report already published and delivered at the recent Marketplace for Lasers & Photonics seminar in San Francisco. I'll possibly tweak the detail numbers, such as those for lasers used for specific applications, but the changes will be minimal and will not upset the trend lines.

The early assessments for the global manufacturing economy are rolling in and have not changed from those I used to make the ILS 2013 forecast. The mix of good/bad news is about what analysts expected, and I anticipate that my numbers might inch up a bit, but remain in the mid-single digit area. I'll have a better idea come my mid-year Market Report, which again this year will be in the form of an ILS Webcast scheduled for June.