The US Department of Commerce has agreed to adopt new categories for tracking laser sales as part of its North American Industrial Classification System. Beginning in January 2000, the department's survey of sales for 1999 will track both diode and nondiode lasers. Diode lasers will be categorized by wavelength and power level; nondiode lasers will be listed by lasing material and power level. Laser makers will be required to supply the Commerce Department with annual sales figures based on the new categories. After the agency compiles the surveys, it hopes to make the aggregate numbers available by the middle of the year. Sales numbers of specific firms will not be made public. The survey will collect data on US-manufactured lasers that are exported, but it will not track laser imports to the US from Europe or Japan. Accordingly, a calculation of global laser sales will still involve some guesswork, since aggregate data from Europe will not be available. For better marketing The changes could help managers to see more clearly where markets are and how they are changing, said Breck Hitz, executive director of the Laser & Electro-Optics Manufacturers' Association, which negotiated the changes. "It can't hurt to have accurate data," he said. He also encouraged manufacturers to return the forms promptly so that the report can be produced quickly. Dave Hardwick, vice president and general manager of IPG Photonics in Sturbridge, Mass., said the comprehensive sales figures would help companies learn more about their competition. He worked to get the new categories adopted and predicted that the results also would help educate investors. Bob Schricker, vice president of sales at Lee Laser Inc. in Orlando, Fla., said the report would be interesting for watching emerging trends. But, he said, knowing what customers want and where they are going is the best market information. Accuracy was a concern for Mike Scaggs, director of customer support at Lambda Physik Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Who's to say [respondents] are giving the right info?" he wondered. He suggested the results might surprise some in the industry who would then ask, "Is the survey accurate, or are we missing something in our own work?"