Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Top 10 laser suppliers: some tight races but a good year for all

Now that 2011 is coming to a close we can estimate who are the leading laser suppliers for the year. Once again it looks like Trumpf and Coherent are neck and neck for Number 1, with over $800 million each. Rofin and Cymer are in a close race for 3rd and 4th places, with nearly $600 million each.  IPG will roll in 5th, but this year with over $450 million in fiber laser sales. IPG's 2011 revenues would have put it at #1 as recently as 2009.

These players are familiar names. Cymer dropped out of the short list in the recession, but is back again. The order changes depending on the exposure of companies to different sectors. Trumpf and Rofin are highly exposed to heavy manufacturing, while Coherent is more diversified. Cymer is basically a one-product company.

I can't really know how the year will end up, of course. But three quarters are finished, and so far it looks like the fourth quarter is behaving as expected. Only the floods in Thailand have created surprises, but that's confined to telecom components, hard drive manufacturers, and the like.

I also can't really know what Trumpf is up to. And a lot of revenues for a company like Rofin-Sinar are really system sales, revenues that would not be counted if it were a company like Trumpf or Newport.

And then there are the telecom transceiver manufacturers. Finisar, JDS Uniphase, Oclaro, and others are all very strong in that segment, and Finisar is closing in on $800 million itself. With the companies above, and a couple others, that rounds out a list of the top 10.

It's also interesting that the Top 10 make up over 50% of all laser sales worldwide.

But I don't want to give too much away. There will be more on 2011 and 2012 at January's Laser Focus World Marketplace Seminar and our upcoming market report.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is U.S. manufacturing growing or shrinking?

Here’s a little known fact: U.S. manufacturing has actually been growing as an economic output in the U.S. for at least 60 years. Here’s another: China is now the largest manufacturing nation. So there you are: U.S. manufacturing has been growing, but China is now #1.

If you don’t believe me, here are two charts, published in the New York Times (Sept. 11, 2011). The chart on the right shows overall output, growing steadily over decades with only brief setbacks. Whether the trend will continue upward, or represents the end of an era, depends on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.

We’re used to hearing that U.S. manufacturing is declining, but the chart on the left shows that it’s only declining as a share of overall economic output. Other sectors are simply growing more quickly. The U.S. is producing more output in information-intensive industries (such as finance) and less in labor-intensive industries (such as manufacturing). Even the manufacturing tends to be more information-intensive. The U.S. is strong in things like jet engines and pharmaceuticals, whereas for sneakers you think of Asia.

There are issues, to be sure. Most importantly, growth in output does not necessarily mean growth in jobs, and a country needs jobs for its people. Also, China’s manufacturing output is growing much faster than the U.S. Much of that was done by making the pie bigger, but some was done by taking share from other countries. The gains in share are not just in sneakers, but in things like laptop computers (Lenovo) and telecom switches (Huawei).

This is obviously a complex topic--just ask anyone at your next cocktail party or Occupy Wall Street event. And to be precise, manufacturing output did decline during the down years of recessions, when the whole economy slowed.

Just the same, it might cheer some of you as we enter the winter to know that U.S. manufacturing has been growing for nearly all of the last 60 years, and more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Kodak exits opto and ends an era

It seems like the end of an era: Kodak is selling its CCD operations and its image sensor patents. It had been making CCDs since 1975, one of the early companies to make them, but waited until 1989 to sell them externally. Kodak had a number of firsts, including the first megapixel sensor, in 1986.

Then CMOS image sensors took off.CMOS sensors were conceived early on, but the lithography was too poor at the time. Omnivision and others brought it to life in the 1990s. Kodak tried several times to break into that product line, but it never worked out. Kodak teamed with Motorola in 1997 on CMOS image sensors. In 2004 it acquired National Semiconductor’s CMOS image sensor operation, for about $10 million in cash. Kodak even had deals with IBM and TSMC to manufacture the sensors, and some clever technology. But it wasn't enough.  

In our 1997 market report, we estimated that Kodak was the leading producer of image sensors outside of Japan, with $38 million in sales and under 6% market share. By the time of our 2009 market report, the image sensor market had grown 10X, but Kodak’s sales were stuck for years at about $80 million. Then in April it sold hundreds of patents and patent applications to Omnivision, for $65 million. And now it’s selling the CCD facility and its 200 employees to  Platinum Equity, a private equity firm.

In a way, kicking out the CCD business has little in common with the rest of Kodak’s problems. The operation being sold still makes high performance CCDs for high-end professional and scientific applications--some of it is really amazing stuff. And over the years a lot of companies have handed off their image sensor operations. For example, Pixel Devices International was sold to Agilent, which became Avago, who sold the image sensor operation to Micron, which spun it off as Aptina. And of course, Kodak is still huge into imaging, and that's photonics too.

It’s just the business getting older, but Kodak had been a classic example of a U.S. company deep into optoelectronics--that is, the actual making of the chips. No more.