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Positive industry outlook expressed at Photonics West

In part I of III of Electro Optics’ review of a packed Photonics West show, which took place in San Francisco from 1-6 February, Greg Blackman reports on the state of the photonics market

An optimistic outlook for 2014 and beyond, with medical and life sciences especially robust, was the overriding opinion of a panel of company executives at Photonics West on 5 February. The fourth quarter of 2013 was also reported as being particularly strong by the panel, which was made up of senior executives from Daylight Solutions, Excelitas, Idex, Jenoptik, Newport, Optimax, and Trumpf.

The automotive and semiconductor sectors were both noted as showing growth, but the market for photonics within scientific research was reported as being less healthy, especially in the US where federal budget sequestration has restricted funding. However, Rick Plympton, CEO of Optimax, made the point that sequestration might not necessarily be a bad thing for photonics, as research on older technologies is cut which frees up money for photonics.

Aerospace and microelectronics were also noted as two areas that contracted in 2013, but, in general, there was plenty of optimism regarding the photonics industry. ‘I see opportunity, I see growth,’ said Jerry Jurkiewicz, president, optics and photonics at Idex.

Life sciences, optical sensing, (the sensing capabilities of mobile devices are predicted to increase significantly in the coming years), and ultrafast lasers were all mentioned as being areas where the companies would be investing.

The semiconductor market was also noted by Jurkiewicz of Idex as an area of investment over the next five years, although he warned that the cyclical nature of semicon had to be taken into consideration. Trumpf is one company now involved in the semiconductor market, announcing developments in CO2 laser amplifier technology for EUV lithography earlier last year. The company was exhibiting a model of the machine on its booth (for more about what was on display on the exhibition floor, see part II of the Photonics West review).

Trumpf has recently also announced the purchase of a majority stake in Chinese machine tool producer JFY CNC Machine Company. Christof Lehner, general manager, North America at Trumpf, commented that China is a huge market for photonics companies, which was echoed by other members of the panel. Support was also given to North America and Dennis Werth, senior VP, Photonics Group at Newport, said he would be investing in the USA, simply because of its history and because of companies like Google and Apple.

The optimism from the panel was reinforced by attendance figures for the show, which were at record levels, and from exhibitors on the show floor. All kinds of photonics technologies were on display, which will be the subject of part II of Electro Optics’ Photonics West review, including my attempt to control a toy car with the power of my mind.

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