FEATURE
Issue: 

The power of community

By Dave MacLellan, Executive Director, AILU

One of the greatest assets AILU has is a connected community of members from all over the laser industry, from primary research, through component and source manufacture to job shops and end-users.

Particularly effective is the AILU Job Shop Special Interest Group (SIG), which has an annual meeting each October. With an active committee of subcontract laser business owners, this group meets regularly and has grown to be a significant and well-connected community within the overall AILU membership. Regularly meeting for a curry and a drink, the core steering group shares information, visits each other’s sites and collaborates with information sharing and referring good suppliers and partner organisations. New members are always welcome.

If you are looking to set up, grow or diversify your job shop, this article should give you plenty of reasons to connect at the Annual Business Meeting on 18 October, which takes place at BOC, Wolverhampton, with an opportunity to take a tour at the end of the day’s schedule. More information on the venue, timing and content of the day can be found at www.ailu.org.uk/events, which also gives an overview of workshops, exhibitions and symposia supported by AILU. 

Knowledge is power

Through workshops, the website, social media and The Laser User magazine, AILU disseminates information about applications and new technology in laser material processing. Discovering new applications and the latest equipment can lead to new markets and business opportunities which have resulted in many benefits to AILU members. At the September workshop, for example, the topic of laser cleaning – a fast-growing application area – is covered in depth. For many people this will be an introduction to this technology and the markets that can adopt it. The Job Shop SIG also has regular discussions about lasers for cutting, comparing CO2 lasers with fibre lasers, and the latest direct diode lasers to cut through the hype with some real-world opinion and data. 

A vital network

At all AILU events there are numerous opportunities to meet new people and build a wider network. Feedback from events suggests that attendees meet an average of three to five people that they didn’t previously know. Unique at these events is the mix of organisations that delegates come from. Mixing academics with business owners allows collaborative relationships to develop, and many ideas have crossed over in both directions at AILU events. In the UK, for example, as in many countries, there is a strong history of start-up companies spinning out from universities – and AILU is a great vehicle to help these companies find staff and clients for their new technology. Rather than treating competitors as enemies, the forward-thinking organisations are learning the benefits of working together to make the cake bigger for everyone. 

Benchmarking best practice

Regular surveys of AILU members allows for vital feedback to inform and change, leading to business improvement. Every year AILU organises an online survey to test satisfaction concerning the responsiveness to machinery breakdowns of different machine suppliers and service providers. Looking at the same questions annually, comparisons can be made year-on-year. Highlighting speed of response, cost of spare parts, expertise of engineers and hotline telephone support, the survey allows comparison of different suppliers and gives the opportunity for organisations to change and improve. Mark Miller of Essex Laser, the current chair of the Job Shop Group, said: ‘The annual AILU Breakdown Response Survey allows us to hold the laser suppliers to account for their level of customer support. Pressure from AILU job shops has resulted in positive improvements from the suppliers.’

Previously, AILU has surveyed members on process gas costs. Direct comparisons based on overall cost allow people to negotiate or switch suppliers to achieve the best deal. A few years ago, Dave Lindsey of Laser Process, in Cannock, found this was an opportunity for a huge reduction in his gas bill: ‘As a result of an AILU gas survey, a little brow-beating and threats to move supplier, we managed a saving of £80,000 over a 12-month period.’ 

A strong lobby

Working together as a connected community, AILU draws together the laser manufacturers, researchers, subcontractors and users to speak with a single voice in developing strategy and seeking public funding to improve access to the resources needed and raise the profile of laser manufacturing. This activity helps the sector to access public finance to facilitate training initiatives and fund growth, with a benefit to industrial productivity and market growth.

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