3 Questions with Tom Hausken

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Photonics Market Responds to COVID-19

With COVID-19 affecting the nation’s economy in every sector, photonics industries have been working to respond to closing factories and delayed exports. Tom Hausken, OSA’s senior industry adviser, offered Photonics Media a look at the current state of the industry.
Tom Hausken. Courtesy of OSA.
Tom Hausken. Courtesy of OSA.

Photonics Media: What impact have you seen on sectors of the photonics industry as a result of COVID-19?

Tom Hausken: The immediate effect is that the supply chains are disrupted. They were already changing before with the trade war, and now very much more so. But it’s not easy to change suppliers. If you can find new suppliers and qualify them, you may not be able to get the parts on planes right now. And if you can, you may have to pay a premium since the freight is half full. But all that said, it varies from company to company, with the actual impact hard to generalize.

PM: How have photonics companies responded to the industry impact during the coronavirus pandemic?

TH: Many photonics companies seem to have qualified as some kind of essential business, or are otherwise open or already returning to work. The effect is much less dramatic than with the hospitality or travel sectors, where business dropped off a cliff. The companies most negatively affected are not highly visible right now, but certainly small photonics businesses are the most vulnerable.

PM: With supply chains heavily dependent on Asian markets where virus cases seem to be making a slow but early recovery, what have you noticed as far as a response from photonics investors and the supply chains in China and surrounding countries?

TH: I won’t generalize about investors, which covers a broad category from holders of publicly traded stock all the way to venture capital. The good news is that Asian factories have worked hard to keep running, with some factories returning to normal levels in late March even as U.S. factories were closing down. Now the U.S. factories are bringing lines back to production that were suspended for many weeks. There are many reasons to look to Asia for signs. The pandemic largely hit there first, they have more memory and experience with this sort of crisis, and their economies are strongly dependent on exports that they will do their best to safely bring exports back up. They are making laptops and computer monitors as fast as they can. The concern is that once the surge in demand from pandemic-related reasons subsides, there could be a slump in demand for electronics later in the year. That’s just one sector. Others expect to do relatively well (such as communications and security), while others are at greater risk. Certain sectors like laser-based machine tools were already weak in 2019, and a slowdown only makes that worse.

Published: May 2020
Businesscoronavirussupply chainAsia-PacificChinainvestorsstocksventure capitalfactoriessupply and demandcommunicationsecuritylaser-based machine vision marketlaser-based machine toolsCOVID-19

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