By Geoff Giordano
More vendors, more content, more onsite registrations — In its second year, LIA’s Lasers for Manufacturing Event (LME®) continued to establish itself as the industry’s only marketplace focused exclusively on photonics-based production.
LME 2012 built upon the success of last year’s inaugural session by featuring an expanded package of fundamentals courses, two new concentrated tutorials and the companion two-day Laser Welding & Joining Workshop. Held on Oct. 23-24, at the Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL, LME attracted another sizable group of first-time attendees. Many took advantage of the event’s proximity to their facilities to glean a wealth of information about state-of-the-art practices in laser production.
The message was clear: Advances in fiber lasers, ultrafast machining and additive manufacturing are pushing the bounds of efficient production in a broad range of industries. From automobiles and airplanes to stents and ship decks, lasers are delivering superior quality, performance and profits.
LIA’s longstanding mission to serve as the go-to source of laser technology for the manufacturing professional is further evidenced by a just-signed contract that commits LME to Schaumburg for the next three years. That level of commitment is a key factor in ensuring U.S. economic prosperity, according to the just-released report “Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation” by the National Research Council’s Committee on Harnessing Light. The so-called “Harnessing Light II” document stresses the impact of laser-driven advances in communications, defense, energy, medical and manufacturing applications — advances LIA has fostered since 1968.
The major optics and photonics societies, including LIA, are committing resources to raise awareness of this report, particularly in Washington, D.C., with the aim of influencing public policy and commitment of resources for photonics.
Five subcommittees have been formed covering major areas delineated in the report. LIA will form and support the subcommittee on Advanced Manufacturing. On February 28th, members of these subcommittees will meet in D.C. to present our recommendations, and those of the four other subcommittees, to government agencies and their representatives. The recommendations will be the foundation of NPI’s policy and lobbying efforts moving forward. They will be communicated to our constituents and used as talking points to Congress, agencies, and the Administration.
“We agree with, and support, the conclusions reached by the Committee on Harnessing Light,” said LIA Executive Director, Peter Baker. “The potential for lasers to continue to revolutionize manufacturing on macro and micro scales is something LIA has traditionally advocated and will continue to vigorously promote with our events like LME and the Laser Additive Manufacturing Workshop.”
WORLD OF OPPORTUNITIES
LIA President David Belforte took the stage Tuesday morning to deliver the first keynote address at the Technology Showcase in the exhibit hall, he detailed a wealth of profit potential via laser manufacturing. A standing-room-only crowd gathered to hear a heartening series of projections in his presentation, titled “U.S. Strong for Industrial Laser Processing.”“Contrary to what you might have heard… manufacturing in the United States is doing pretty well — if you’re in the right sectors,” Belforte asserted. “After the recession, everybody recovered very quickly because there was a built-up buying demand. As we normalized in 2010, the problems in Europe and the problems early this year in China and other Southeast Asian countries slowed things down a bit. But here in the United States, things remained very constant.”
In fact, the U.S. is “a more positive market through the first three quarters of this year than the rest of the world markets,” he declared, thanks to “markets of opportunity that have caused the U.S. industrial laser business to be strong.” Five of those six markets demonstrate strong potential:
- Transportation: “The resurgence in Detroit has been remarkable,” Belforte said, with 12 auto manufacturers in the U.S. aiming to build more than 13 million vehicles this year worth more than $200 billion in revenue. It’s a strong market for high-power lasers. “Some of the laser suppliers will show you charts of an automobile that have hundreds of laser applications on them,” he noted. Meanwhile, “passenger aircraft have been fantastic.” Airbus is going to double operations in Alabama from $24 billion up to $50 billion, he said. These themes were amplified in keynote addresses by Scott Heckert of Highyag and Brad Walsh of Pratt & Whitney, who highlighted laser requirements for the automotive and aerospace manufacturing, respectively.
- Energy: “Gas turbines are booming” and are expected to generate a quarter of all power in the U.S. in the next five years, he said. “Every one of those turbine blades, every one of those compressor sections, has got laser processing in it.” Turning to pipelines, he noted that more than 9,000 miles of pipeline are in construction in the U.S. “A lot of those (projects) are considering, or may even be using, high-power lasers to weld the pipe.” In the petroleum sector, “downhole drilling is a terrific opportunity. Many of those operations use lasers one way or another, some of them to help fracture the rock.”
- Medical Devices: This sector “kept us alive through the recession,” Belforte enthused. Now, industrial lasers are being used for the assembly of catheters, including marking, drilling and welding balloons onto the catheter. The market for implantable medical devices has expanded into drug delivery units and defibrillators, he said, with seven of the top manufacturers in the world using more lasers for joining, marking and other applications within the devices. Stent cutting is one of the major success stories in laser precision cutting going back 25 years, he said. “As stents are getting more and more sophisticated, they have to be processed by lasers, and lasers are doing well every single year in expanding this particular market.”
- Aerospace: With 5,000 narrow-body jets planned for construction in the U.S., that means two engines featuring millions of laser-drilled holes for each, Belforte said. Given the pioneering use of composites in airliner wings and fuselages — for example, in Boeing’s Dreamliner, production of which is targeted at five a month — lasers are being used to cut those structures.
- Communications: The smart phone business is “just spectacular.” It’s a market that “seems to have no bounds. If you take apart that smart phone, you’ll find lasers being used all over the phone for a variety of applications.” Belforte noted the U.S. is set to ship 20.6 percent of the world’s smart phones this year. In the tablet market, there are “fantastic applications for lasers in the displays, plus inside the product in terms of the circuits.” Worldwide, 326 million are expected to be sold in 2015 — all using laser technology.
Beyond those markets, sheet metal cutting accounts for $500 million to $700 million a year in revenue in the U.S. and $2.5 billion worldwide. With 4,500 to 5,000 systems shipping each year, at a cost of $500,000 to up to $1 million or more, “you’ve got a big, big mover in the marketplace.”
GETTING THE JOB DONE
While Belforte delineated the market opportunities for LME attendees, the educational program provided nuts-and-bolts details on how to capitalize on those opportunities.
As he did last year, Tom Kugler of Laser Mechanisms kicked off the education program by delivering a comprehensive survey of the most important types of lasers and their capabilities. The packed room Tuesday morning was a good sign that LME’s message was right on target.
Afterward, Eckhard Beyer of Fraunhofer IWS presented the first of two two-and-a-half-hour tutorials. His discourse on the basics of laser welding and joining gave a taste of LIA’s first-ever workshop on the subject. Chaired by Beyer, the Laser Welding & Joining Workshop spanned two days and featured 16 presentations running the gamut from fiber laser welding in automotive applications to welding polymers with long wavelength fiber lasers to welding of mixed materials using high brightness lasers. (Jerry Zybko of Leister Technologies later continued the theme of the workshop with his Technology Showcase keynote presentation on the impact of lasers in plastics manufacturing.)
“It’s very interesting stuff,” said Pinnacle senior technologist Bill Gibler after he and coworker Joshua Thacker attended Paul Denney’s session on hot wire welding of galvanized steel. “It gives us ideas for stuff that we do. We’re welding small inconel parts. It’s always neat to see other technologies and other manufacturers and how they’re using the lasers to improve their yield, processes and products.”
Gibler noted that his operation used an inexpensive fixed-optic, flashlamp pulsed YAG laser. “We bought it to replace an electronic beam welder. We’ve already discovered that we need to upgrade the laser to do all the welds we need to do. In the meantime, we’ve learned a lot (at LME). Now when we go to buy another laser, we’ll know the right questions to ask. We also came to this show because we’re looking for a laser scribe or laser engraver. (LME is) very well organized. I’m impressed. Everything seems to flow together; it’s well worth the money.”
LIA President Prof. Reinhart Poprawe captivated attendees with in-depth analyses of advances in laser additive manufacturing and his four-module tutorial on ultrafast laser machining. LIA Education Director Gus Anibarro appropriately capped the first day of courses by reprising his session on proper safety to avoid beam and nonbeam hazards.
TAILOR YOUR LME EXPERIENCE
While the expert sessions — including Wayne Penn’s survey of key laser system components and options and Rick Neff’s overview of the fundamentals of laser cutting — continued upstairs, attendees were able to venture downstairs to the exhibit hall at any time and connect with dozens of the top names in the industry.
“We have a few cutting applications that we’re working through,” noted LME first-timer Josh Vander Meulen, a mechanical engineer for Innotec in Zeeland, MI. “We’re meeting with our suppliers; we’ve got a couple of SPI lasers and Synrad lasers. I’m pretty new to it, so I’m learning a lot. I’ve been on the floor a couple of hours and it’s been great.” Added coworker Nate Tickfer, “LME is a great place to come and see everybody at the same time.”
While end users were getting vital questions answered by representatives of the industry’s top companies, others indicated that they were interested in joining the concentrated networking opportunity at LME.
“I’m here as a walk-in,” said Burt Mooney, sales development manager of Gentec in Lake Oswego, OR. After having attended LIA’s annual ICALEO event in September, he was at LME “trying to decide whether we should exhibit here. I think it’s probably a show we should be at. There are people here walking around buying these laser systems, and if they need that they need equipment like ours, which is laser power meters.”
Thomas Shelow, founder of Superior Joining Technologies in Machesney Park, IL., was at LME 2012 at the urging of an industry peer. He, too, immediately understood the value of the event and indicated he would like his job shop to be represented in the hall.
“A laser-focused event is attractive to us,” Shelow said. “We’re getting a lot of great information from the seminars, like insights into welding techniques. Some of the things that we’re seeing on our shop floor that we didn’t understand” were explained in LME’s educational sessions. “That’s been really gratifying. (There are) very knowledgeable individuals here who are very open with ideas and answering questions.”
A BRIGHT FUTURE
Presentations by major LME sponsors, TRUMPF and IPG, further emphasized the need for the laser industry to focus on the cost benefits to customers.
Christof Lehner of TRUMPF contrasted the potential of CO2 vs. solid-state fiber lasers in steel cutting applications during his fundamentals course on return on investment. In detailing how to calculate per-part costs, he emphasized the customer-focused assessment required to maximize their profit margins.
Bill Shiner of IPG recalled in his Technology Showcase presentation that in 2002, “I’d been hired to develop the industrial market for IPG. I remember asking when I came on board what are our net sales in material processing. It was $800,000. Today, in nine or 10 years, we’ve reached almost $500 million, $600 million.” The technology has taken off because “reliability has been proven in multiple material applications in very, very demanding three-shift-a-day operation.”
Exhibitors like Klaus Kleine, general manager of the U.S. office of Ingeneric in Los Gatos, CA, and Leonard Migliore, senior staff engineer with Coherent, noted that LME again delivered quality contacts. Given attendee reaction, the trend is likely to grow when LME returns to Schaumburg on Sept. 11-12, 2013.
“I should have brought some of the other guys along with me,” said Rayovac’s Steve Esch, who attended the Welding & Joining Workshop and took advantage of the “Ask the Experts” booth in the exhibit hall. “Hopefully next year we’ll get at least two or three guys out here.”
The education element of LME was seen throughout the multiple level courses as well as the show floor.
Equipment demonstrations on the exhibit floor had a great impact on the attendees’ overall experience.
For more information on LIA’s Lasers for Manufacturing Event, as well as next year’s exhibit, visit www.laserevent.org.