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Transformational change is relative

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DANIEL MCCARTHY, SENIOR EDITORThose of us in the media hear about transformational change a lot. It’s a useful claim that gets people’s attention in the busy marketplace of ideas. But the term can get a little threadbare — both from overuse and from inevitable comparisons with the actual transformative changes that we’ve all personally endured over the past 12 months.

Yet, I’m writing this in the wake of two momentous acquisitions that occurred in as many weeks during the month of January. The first is Teledyne Technologies’ acquisition of FLIR Systems in a cash and stock transaction valued at approximately $8 billion. The second is Lumentum’s purchase of Coherent in a transaction worth $5.7 billion. We cover both transactions in this month’s “Light Speed” section and will share updates online at

All four of the companies involved in these transactions represent bellwethers in their respective sectors, making either acquisition enough to redefine the photonics industry’s competitive landscape. Together, their ripples will spread through the imaging and laser sectors to create waves in optics, spectroscopy, and a dozen or more end markets for photonics technologies.

It would be hard to argue that these transactions signify anything other than a transformative change. I certainly won’t pick up that gauntlet.

Something worth remembering, however, is that transformative change is always unfolding in this industry — only more slowly or on a smaller scale. The acquisitions in question are momentous, in part because of the decades of incremental innovations and advancements that made the four companies involved the bellwethers that they are.

If we in the media get a little jaded by the term “transformational change,” it’s because we recognize that it momentarily focuses the spotlight on one portion of a very large and active stage. In other words, transformational change is a relative term in this industry.

A case in point appears on page 51 of this issue, where, in conjunction with SPIE, we announce 30 finalists for the 2021 Prism Awards. Selected from more than 140 candidates, the finalists represent the most significant advancements made in 10 categories: vision technology, manufacturing, quality control, quantum, safety and security, software, smart sensing, transportation, medical devices, and the life sciences.

Each winner, indeed each finalist, is a candidate for catalyzing some future transformational change. This change may unfold more slowly or on a smaller scale than an industry megamerger. Collectively, however, the Prism Awards finalists represent the vanguard of a legion of smaller but highly innovative businesses, all of them advancing photonics technology and troubleshooting its application each day.

Transformational change is practically the hallmark of the photonics industry.

Photonics Spectra
Feb 2021

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