Photonics industry buoyant at Laser World of Photonics

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Photonics is back in business if the mood at this week's Laser World of Photonics show is anything to go by. Many companies were confirming what has previously been reported of growth in sales across all sectors. During the CEO discussion panel, which took place on the second day of the show – the panel comprised of Dr John Ambroseo of Coherent, David Marks of Qioptiq, Stuart Schoenmann of CVI Melles Griot and Dr Ulrich Simon of Carl Zeiss MicroImaging – Dr Ambroseo commented that the speed of the financial downturn was spectacular. He said most companies did a terrific job in managing the downturn and responded well to the upturn as well.

All four members of the discussion panel agreed that the photonics industry was too fragmented and there was a need for consolidation. Marks commented: 'You don't want to stifle small businesses – you want to encourage them – but you want bigger successful companies that can be profitable and spend more money on developing new product and new technologies.'

Dr Simon added that, along with the economics, one of the main drivers of consolidation is to be able to integrate along the value chain, something that smaller companies cannot do as effectively.

Dr Ambroseo's viewpoint was that the photonics industry is too fractured to compete on cost with other industries: 'If you look around this venue, many of us consider our competitors to be here. But I would argue that a lot of our competitors are in adjacent industries where the photonics industry is trying to displace them.'

In the materials processing space, lasers are a better solution in many instances but are too expensive, he said. 'If you look at how much the [photonics] industry is spending on R&D – and duplicate R&D – we can't go after an iPhone model. ... You have got to be able to drive costs to get there and we're too fractured as an industry today; we're spending too much money developing similar products to be able to really take advantage of those [global] trends. That's my argument for consolidation. The economics make sense, but it's because we can become something greater than we are if we can just amass enough resources to get there.'

Political involvement was also covered, with some countries deemed better at supporting the photonics industry than others. Schoenmann felt that the government policies in the US at least do not keep up with the global trends that photonics ties into. However, other countries including Germany and Singapore were praised. This came on the back of the announcement on the first day of the show that the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has unveiled a package of €1bn over the next ten years to promote research and development in the photonics sector.

The discussion also focused on growth trends such as biophotonics and 'green photonics', trends that aren't created by the photonics industry but are enabled by it. These two sectors were well represented on the exhibition floor, with many companies presenting solutions for solar cell production, energy-efficient lighting and other 'green' areas, as well as products for biophotonics.

Bayerische Laserzentrum and the Institute for Machine Tools and Industrial Management, Technical University of Munich highlighted technologies as part of a special exhibition for more resource-efficient manufacturing and the production of environmentally friendly products. The Fraunhofer ILT showcased some of its developments in welding lithium-ion batteries for electric cars, in this case a Tesla Roadster V2.5. The work investigated using lasers to weld lightweight materials, such as carbon fibre reinforced plastics, in order to reduce the weight and thereby produce more efficient electric vehicles.

Companies representing the entire spectrum of the photonics industry were present at the show, from optics, sensors and detectors, and imaging, to laser devices and complete laser systems. A total of 27,500 visitors from around 80 countries travelled to the show, up eight per cent on the previous event's figures.