Panel Forecasts Photonics Market Forces
SAN JOSE, Calif., Jan. 26 -- A panel of industry executives discussed the photonics market direction and implications at a Photonics West seminar Wednesday in a packed ballroom at the Marriott Hotel here.
Steve Eglash, a principal at Worldview Technology Partners, a Palo Alto venture capital firm, moderated the panel. Other panelists were Giorgio Anania, president and CEO of Bookham Technology; Lynn Strickland, vice president of marketing and strategic development at Melles Griot; John Stack, president and COO of Edmund Optics; Gary Spiegel, vice president, sales and service, Newport Corp.; Ken Kaufmann, new-technology development director at Hamamatsu; and Paul Meissner, executive vice president, global business operations at Coherent.
Citing growing demand in a variety of photonic markets such as displays, automotive, biotechnology and photovoltaics, Eglash asked panel members how their firms would choose which markets to pursue. The panel's consensus was that the potential size of a market is a major factor in light of the costs of entry. Strickland said a key consideration is the duration of demand. He said life cycles of products have grown shorter, and expending research and money to become a player only makes sense if the market is sustainable, adding that security and biotech markets hold promise. Anania said short cycles endanger profits, and a company needs to exercise caution and to target potentially larger, longer-lasting markets.
More contentious were the issues of low-cost manufacturing and commoditization. Kauffman said his firm's response was to use automated assembly to offset low-cost labor. However, the company could employ both if conditions warranted, he said. Siegel said his firm's approach is to bundle technology and components rather than compete on cost alone.
Partnering with customers was described as another means to level the playing field. Meissner said that forming partnerships with customers is a one way to accomplish this. Such partnerships could even extend to providing marketing assistance, he said. Spiegel agreed; he said there is much emerging technology here and that small companies should be aided by larger ones to help them prosper.
The emergence of China as an economic challenge was another source of panelists' concern -- and not just as a low-cost manufacturer. It was pointed out that China is producing a large number of engineers; Stack countered that the strength of companies like his lies in engineering excellence, which trumps low-cost production, although low-cost producers do pose a threat.
The panelists suggested some things new and some things old to prepare for the future: Displays, biotech, security, nanotechnology and automotive from the present, and from the past, fiber-to-the-home.
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