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Laser Munich--Bottoming out, fiber lasers, and a family reunion fueled by beer

By Tom Hausken
Who can be gloomy at a show where the beer starts flowing before noon and booth parties start before closing? If booth traffic is slow, at least the halls are bright and cheery and everyone is there. It’s the closest thing to a family reunion in the laser business, and it only happens once every two years.

The number of exhibitors at Laser Munich last week was almost exactly the same as in 2007, but spread out in four halls instead of three. Considering the laser industry is in its deepest trough ever, people were in a great mood.

One factor would be that there is now a general feeling that the industry, and the economy at large, has more or less hit bottom. One comment that sums it up is that now “there are finally more new orders than cancellations.” It’s kind of like how you feel when you stop beating your head against the wall.

The bright colors may have helped too. Trumpf was touting the Blue Laser, which I was told referred to blue sky, earth as seen from space, earth-friendly, and something about cozying up to Mercedes. Its new-ish acquisition, SPI Lasers, featured its redENERGY and redPOWER lasers--really more infrared than red, but close enough. Coherent, meanwhile, went yellow and featured a more industrial look, evoking images of robots, Caterpillar tractors, and guys with hardhats.

The best coverage of the show, including video coverage, is by Industrial Laser Solutions magazine (look for articles in the June 15 to 19 timeframe). But, since everyone seemed to ask, "What's new at the show"? here's my general take.

Fiber lasers were once again the big thing at Laser Munich. At Munich 2007 we saw several early fiber laser products from players who had been on the sidelines, most notably Trumpf, Rofin, and GSI. This year those companies stepped up their fiber laser offerings. In addition, Coherent showed a fiber laser prototype based on bar pumping that will be out next year. Newport quietly relaunched a 100W CW fiber laser for industrial applications. nLight featured its fiber laser products from its OptoTools acquisition. And even LASAG, well known for its lamp-pumped YAG lasers but not wanting to be identified only as such, had a fiber laser in its booth.

Never one to be outdone, IPG showed a 10 kW single mode fiber laser. Even 3 kW was remarkable just a couple years ago, now they are at 10 kW. Its main application is for military customers developing directed energy weapons, a good business for IPG these days.

Direct diode lasers also had some buzz. For the most part, there were the usual players, Laserline being a leader, but acceptance is growing for processes like brazing and welding. Trumpf was the most notable new player . Lumics was able to boast about its "three digit" unit order for 200+ W fiber-coupled diode systems--a nice win in a tough economy.

Overall, the booth traffic may have been on the light side, but I wonder if Laser Munich may steal some market share from competing events. Even with companies tight on travel budgets, everyone still wants to be at Laser Munich, to be part of the family reunion.

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