CEOs Look for Bright Spots
MUNICH, Germany, June 25, 2009 -- While some optical technology areas are experiencing high growth rates, that growth may be limited by the number of qualified workers available, and innovations are still needed in the production process. Those were a few of the conclusions reached during the CEO round table, "Optical Technologies – Bright Hopes in Times of Crisis," held during Laser World of Photonics 2009.
Industry leaders from the US, France, Germany and China took part in the event, held in the New Munich Trade Fair Centre's B2 exhibition hall: Dr. John R. Ambroseo, president and CEO, Coherent; Benoit Bazire, CEO, Qioptiq SAS; Gunther Braun, president and CEO, Rofin-Sinar; Yunfeng Gao, president, Han's Laser Technology; Stuart Schoenmann, CEO, CVI Melles Griot; and Dr. Ulrich Simon, president and CEO, Carl Zeiss MicroImaging. Moderating the discussion was Dr. Gerd Litfin, president, Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft.
Participating in the CEO round table "Optical Technologies – Bright Hopes in Times of Crisis" during Laser World of Photonics 2009 in Munich are (l-r) Dr. John R. Ambroseo, president and CEO, Coherent; Gunther Braun, president and CEO, Rofin-Sinar Laser; and Dr. Ulrich Simon, president and CEO, Carl Zeiss MicroImaging. (Photos: Messe Munchen GmbH)
Litfin began asking the leaders what role optical technology can play in solving the financial crisis, given that only 10 to 20 percent of applications for industrial production processes are used today.
Braun said while taken as a whole, the figure might be 10 to 20 percent, but some sectors of the industry are much higher. "Cutting has 50 percent penetration," he said, "And marketing is also above the 50 percent level." He added that the machine tool, automotive, and microstructure processing industries represent the lower figure.
Next Litfin asked about short pulse lasers, and when the leaders thought there will be a breakthrough.
Ambroseo said it's still a couple of years away, and will only be achieved once issues such as moving the technology away from strictly scientific processes and decreasing the cost of ownership are resolved.
Gao said short pulse technology in China has seen great development in the materials processing area. "The Chinese market has special characteristics that make it different from the US and Europe. Scientific areas are not explored, even in the automotive industry. It's much less saturated than in the US and Europe," Gao said through an interpreter. The automotive industry in China has seen double-digit growth, even in the recession, he said.
The discussion then moved to the defense market, and what it means to the companies participating in the round table.
Bazire said night vision is a key area for Qioptiq, and a thriving area for the defense market in general. Because the fight is moving back to the street level, technological advantages like night vision are extremely important. Bazire said there is plenty of innovation ahead in the defense market, particularly in terms of miniaturization of technologies, and that Qioptiq is currently experiencing 25 percent a year growth in the defense segment.
Moving on to a discussion of the biomedical field and its future, Zeiss MicroImaging's Simon said, "The market is growing, and Zeiss is growing at double-digits in the research market. The name of the game is innovation."
Simon said they are seeing people move more toward highly innovative, new products to differentiate themselves from the competition in a crowded market. He predicted his company will see significant growth in the US over the next two years due to the economic stimulus funding.
"We view the research market as almost recession-proof. I believe there will be a benefit from the stimulus package, but none of the money has flowed [to companies] yet," Ambroseo said.
"The research market has continued to grow worldwide, but research is difficult for us to satisfy because the requirements vary so much," said Schoenmann of CVI Melles Griot. "We still see growth, but I'm not going to forecast."
Discussing "Bright Hopes in Times of Crisis" are (l-r) Stuart Schoenmann, CEO, CVI Melles Griot; Benoit Bazire, CEO, Qioptiq SAS; Yunfeng Gao, president, Han's Laser Technology; and moderator Dr. Gerd Litfin, president, Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft.
Bazire said areas such as DNA sequencing are also growing really fast at the moment, part of a move toward personalized medicine, and being able to treat a person based on their individual genomes.
"With research in general, we see a lot of new things, but we don't know what the 'next big thing' is for 2010 or 2011 yet," he said.
In response to Litfin's question – "Where are the new products?" – Bazire said there is plenty of innovation in the medical sector in terms of imaging technologies such as OCT (optical coherence tomography).
"We see growth and development in the green field," said Schoenmann, such as "smart windows" that can control whether or not heat from outside is let into a structure, and in LEDs, especially superfluorescent LEDs.
Simon said there have been significant developments in the sensivity of 3-D microscopy for imaging live cells to improve diagnosis and treatment. New methods list as few photons as possible to delve more deeply inside the sample.
Ambroseo said that the emphasis for basic research technology will be on speed, such as femtosecond and attosecond imaging.
Gao said the hot market in Asia is photovoltaic applications, such as high output, high power PV.
Following up, Rofin-Sinar's Braun said PV has become more important to the laser industry over the last three years, for application such as silicon wafer marking and cutting for thin-film PV panels.
"The industry has slowed down, and financing is a question mark, but the stimulus money will help and efficiencies will improve," Braun said. "It's a nice opportunity for us. It will pick up in 2010, it's a little slow right now -- it hasn't reached 10 percent of our company, but it is becoming important to us."
"The death of the HeNe [helium neon gas] laser has been forecasted for some time, but we still sell quite a few," Schoenmann said. "But we are selling more solid-state diode or DPSS systems." He added that "a slew" of new technologies are replacing the HeNes, and also ion lasers in some applications.
Asked to peer into the future, the CEOs said personalized medicine, renewable energy storage, superresolution, thermal imaging, and night vision will continue to be hot technologies.
Ambroseo said the industry needs to concentrate on storage solutions for renewable energy, and not just on systems that work great during daylight hours. Simon said existing approaches to looking at cells are being combined into new superresolution technologies that provide researchers with more information than ever at resolutions that are not diffraction limited.
Schoenmann said thermal imaging is a fast growth area for CVI Melles Griot. "Although it has mostly been in defense, it's shifting to security and the industrial market," he said, adding that his company is spending its time "linking optics and sensors together."
Braun pointed out that some industries help drive manufacturers to new innovations, using the example of the automotive industry pushing laser makers to new innovations for industrial materials processing. Today, "100 applicaations in a car are done by a laser," he said.
The CEOs concluded their roundtable discussion on the topic of personnel, and the difficulties with finding qualified people, especially for companies experiencing double-digit growth.
"Generally it's true that it's harder and harder to find people, " Ambroseo said, adding that workers that used to come from Europe to fill the gap are now being found in Asia.
"I believe we do a lot in Germany and Europe to train people, although the last two years it's been tough to get the right people," Braun said.
"With optical engineers, or engineers in general, we don't have an issue, but it's harder to get software people," Simon said.
Melinda Rose, Senior Editor
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