History Part 5

Copyright © 2004 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in June 2004, Volume 29, No. 12 of The Engravers Journal.
By Kristin Huff
 

     When Tom “Rudy” Zarden, an artist who created redwood signs, agreed to buy a laser machine from an upstart company in Wisconsin in the late 1970s, he probably wasn’t thinking about being memorialized as a visionary who would help change the future of the engraving industry. Like the thousands who followed in his footsteps and bought lasers in later years, he probably saw the laser engraving machine as a solution to his needs—a tool that could help him work faster while producing beautiful products to sell. Little did he understand the impact that his actions would have on the industry.
    Lasers have been around in one form or another since the 1950s, and their invention can even be traced back to Einstein’s theory of light emission in 1916. But for the most part, when people thought of lasers in the ’50s and ’60s, they thought of Buck Rogers, or even Goldfinger, of James Bond fame, who nefariously tried to use a laser to destroy James Bond as well as lasering his way into the U.S. gold depository at Fort Knox. Lasers were something futuristic, used by scientists in applications that most people didn’t really understand. Even if some people knew what a laser was, most had never seen one, and they certainly had no idea how one could be applied to their own lives. And most engravers, working diligently at their trade, had no idea that this futuristic technology was about to open up an entirely new chapter in the R&I industry—one that would change the business forever.
Invention of the Laser
    Before the world heard of the laser, Charles Townes and his partner, Arthur Schawlow, invented the “maser,” (which stands for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). It’s an instrument whose technology was close to, but not exactly the same as, the laser. The maser used ammonia gas and microwave radiation rather than visible light. Four years later, in 1958, the pair theorized about a visible “laser” (which stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). Their proposed laser would use infrared and/or the visible spectrum of light, and Townes and Schawlow published a breakthrough paper describing the laser in the journal of the American Physical Society. Their paper launched a new field of science and paved the way for a new, multi-billion dollar industry.


Bell Laboratories' scientists Arthur Schawlow (left) and Charles Townes invented the "maser," which stands for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, an instrument whose technology was close to, but not exactly the same as, the laser. Photo courtesy of Lucent Archives, circa 1960.
Bill Lawson, founder and former president of Laser Machining Inc., is one of the true pioneers of laser engraving. He created the direct-scan method of laser engraving. 2004 photo.

    There’s some controversy over who actually invented the first laser. In 1960 Theodore Maiman invented the first ruby laser, which is widely considered to be the first viable optical laser. However, Gordon Gould is credited as the first person to use the word “laser,” and some believe he invented the first light laser. Gould devised his invention in 1958 but failed to file for a patent until 1959; as a result, his patent application was rejected and other companies swooped in to exploit the technology. (Gould finally won his patent war in 1977.) In any case, between 1959 and 1960, the optical laser was born, and a new industry was waiting in the wings.
    But what, exactly, is a laser? The device itself has not changed much since its invention nearly 50 years ago. A laser (the CO2 variety so popular today) is basically a tube with mirrors at both ends, filled with a mixture of gases (most often nitrogen, helium, and carbon dioxide). When electric energy is applied to the gas-filled tube, it excites the gas molecules, which vibrate and emit light that bounces back and forth between the two mirrors. To use this energy, some of the light is allowed to escape at one end of the tube, thanks to the use of a semi-transmissive mirror, which reflects most of the light toward the other mirror while permitting some light to escape. This small portion of light then passes through a lens where it is narrowed and focused into an intense, pinpoint-sized spot of light or laser energy.
    The most common form of laser used by engravers today is the CO2 laser, which uses a mixture of carbon-dioxide and other gases to produce long-wave infrared light. CO2 lasers work well in engraving and cutting materials that are poor conductors of heat and/or electricity (wood, glass, plastic, ceramic, etc.).
    Another common form of laser is the YAG laser. This device uses a rod of yttrium aluminum garnet and a small amount of a rare element called neodymium to create light. YAG lasers are suitable for engraving metal as well as non-metal materials, and they work well with items like particularly tough grades of stainless steel.
    No matter what form they take, lasers, which seemed so far-out and futuristic to people when they were invented, have many applications in today’s world. Engravers are familiar with the laser’s ability to cut and bore through various materials, creating trophies, nameplates and other R&I products. But lasers are also commonly used in surgery and medicine, in communications and in everyday applications such as the bar code scanner at the grocery store and the CD player you listen to.
    When lasers were invented, they weren’t immediately adopted by the engraving industry as the next big thing. In fact, the industry had several transitions to encounter before it realized that lasers were applicable to engraver’s lives, too. In the late 1950s, New Hermes had a solid grip on the engraving industry as the dominant producer of pantographs in the United States. This dominance continued through the 1970s, and it wasn’t until affordable microcomputers arrived on the scene in the late 1970s and early ’80s that other tools were invented and came to be recognized as useful for engravers.
    Will Dahlgren’s computerized engraving machine was the first revolution in the engraving industry since the invention of the pantograph many decades before. The computerized engraving machine also changed the landscape of who’s who among manufacturers—no longer was New Hermes the only choice when it came to buying an engraving machine. (For more about the invention of computerized engraving machines, see R&I Industry Scrapbook, Parts 3 & 4, in the March & April 2004 issues of EJ.)
    No doubt about it—the computerized engraving machine turned the industry on its head. But at the same time that Will Dahlgren and his friends were inventing the computerized engraver, Bill Lawson was doing some experimenting of his own with a different type of technology: the laser.


 

As the Laser Graver's table oscillated left and right, the artwork scanner scanned the artwork and signaled the laser beam to turn on and off, as needed to engrave the artwork detail. 1981 photo.
The R&I Industry's first turnkey laser engraving system: Laser Machining's "Laser Graver" as shown in this 1981 EJ file photo.

LMI is Born
    Lawson, an engineer who worked as a consultant designing electronic print devices, got the idea for his new company, Laser Machining Inc., from sailboats. He was in Cleveland one day to get cloth cut for a sailboat, and the laser job shop he was visiting allowed him to try their laser to cut the sail cloth. Lawson had never seen a laser before, but he recalls being intrigued by the idea that you could put all that heat in one place and not burn the material it was focused on.
    Ablaze with the idea for a new business that would use this amazing technology, Lawson went home and borrowed $15,000 from his mother. He bought a 50 watt Coherent laser and began experimenting in his basement to find out what it could do.
    In the meantime, Laser Craft, a large-scale laser job shop based in California, had already pioneered the idea of using lasers in engraving applications, but the company did mostly engraving for the trade and sold a line of stock-engraved desk accessories. Laser Machining’s Lawson credits Laser Craft as being the first to do laser engraving on wood, and for introducing the idea to the engraving world. Still, Laser Craft and the concept of laser engraving weren’t well known in the industry, because the company’s market was mostly that of stock merchandise and very expensive custom products.
    “Laser Craft had built a good business by then (the late 1970s),” says Lawson. “It was really neat. They helped introduce people to the idea and look of laser engraving. But it was a difficult way to engrave one-of-a-kind things, mainly due to the expense.”
    The problem with what Laser Craft was doing was their primitive laser technology. Everything they engraved in the early days was engraved using a metal stencil. In other words, you engraved a piece of wood by first adhering a brass or copper mask to the wood and then scanning over the surface with a continuous laser beam. It was like sandblasting with a laser beam, where the laser would cut inside the open areas of the stencil, but bounce off the metal-covered areas.
    This methodology had two big limitations. One was that the metal mask had to contain “bridges,” like any stencil, to hold the design together. Otherwise, the centers would fall out of the letters A or O, for example. Not only did this bridging require time consuming artwork alterations, but it often posed serious design obstacles. Some designs simply weren’t possible with a stencil.
    Also with this technique you had to not only do the “camera-ready” artwork and create a film negative or positive, but you had the extra time and expense involved in chemically milling or etching the metal stencils. Therefore the early laser engraving was inherently expensive. In a relative sense, it was more economical for “stock” items such as desk accessories which were mass produced with some generic scene or award message. Custom personalization was really pricey due to all the up-front film and stencil-making expense.
    Engravers are not necessarily known for their willingness to embrace new technology, and it often takes a visionary to step up to the plate, invest the money and demonstrate faith that the new technology will work wonders for his or her needs. LMI could have built all the lasers it wanted, but without a buyer who had the money and faith that they were making something worthwhile, the machines would have languished in obscurity.


Tom "Rudy" Zarden, circa 1978, purchased LMI"s first machine, the world's first turnkey laser engraver.

 

  An example of an envelope holder laser engraved (early '80s) by Laser Craft, a California based job shop. Laser Craft pioneered laser engraving using a continuous laser beam and a metal stencil covering the substrate.

    Enter Rudy Zarden, our hero from the beginning of the article. An artist from New Holstein, WI, who worked primarily in cedar and redwood, Zarden saw the potential in Lawson’s laser and anted up the money for LMI to produce their first machine.
    Zarden recalls his first sight of a laser engraving system like this. “It was unbelievable,” he says today, “I traveled to Somerset, Wisconsin to see Bill Lawson’s invention. The machine was in the basement of Bill’s home, with parts all over and wires running everywhere. In the meantime, I’m looking to see some engraving, but the machine just sat there and did nothing. Finally, after 15 or 20 minutes of checking things, Bill discovered that one of the components was unplugged. Bill plugged it in and the machine started engraving. I’ll never forget the smell of the laser-generated smoke that day, which filled the air in Bill’s basement.”
    Zarden now remembers with some nostalgia his decision to go ahead and buy the world’s first “turnkey” laser engraving machine, which at that time was little more than a prototype. “We ‘hee-hawed’ quite a bit,” he recalls, “about spending $50,000 for that machine, which was more than we paid for our house. In doing so we scraped-up every penny we could lay our hands on and borrowed $25,000 from a family member. That still wasn’t quite enough, and we wound up owing Bill some money.”
    Delivery of Zarden’s 150 watt Coherent laser-equipped machine took 6 or 8 months, during which time Zarden “had the company’s phone number memorized, as we continued calling for the latest updates on our order,” as Rudy remembers the period.
    “We only sold the one machine that first year,” says Pop Lehner. “The next machine we sold was to a guy who gave us his down payment (cash) in a coffee can. He was an airline pilot who wanted to change careers and get into laser engraving. From there, business gradually built up.”
    In designing LMI’s original machine, Lawson came up with a better way to laser-engrave items, by using a system that could “read” black and white artwork directly and simultaneously engrave that image on a piece of material. “Remember that computers really weren’t available at that time,” he says. “So we created a direct-scan method, where you’d put the black-and-white artwork on one side of the table and the wood on the other side. Everything was mounted to a table that moved back and forth. The scanner looked at the art while the laser engraved it.”
    Lyle “Pop” Lehner, Lawson’s uncle and LMI’s product/sales manager starting in 1981, explains the machine’s function this way: “It had an optical scanner with a white-light sensor. The scanner looked for any black in the art, and when it saw black, it would trigger the laser to come on. Then when the scanner saw white, the laser would turn off again. You could also set it vice-versa. You had to be really careful when you pasted up your artwork,” he explains. “If the sensor saw even a shadow from the edge of the tape that held down the art, or the shadow from a cloud that passed by the window when the sensor was operating, it would trigger the laser. Eventually we started using a red LED sensor, so you could mark up your copy with red pencil and the sensor wouldn’t see it. That worked better.”


This lasered plaque was featured on the cover of EJ when LMI's "Laser Graver," the industry's first turnkey laser engraver, was reviewed in The Engravers Journal, November/December 1981.

 

  Cylindrical lasering using LMI's Laser Graver involved this $5,000 attachment which utilized three interchangeable artwork drums, a vacuum-operated roundwork holder and a mechanical drive shaft to rotate the two round items in unison. 1985 photo.

    LMI’s first laser engraving machine was known as the Model 101. Soon LMI realized that they needed to resolve a timing issue with the laser. A small lag of milliseconds existed between the moment the scanner read the artwork and when the laser beam turned on or off. This created a misalignment in the image on the finished piece. Thus, when the table oscillated to the left, the image being cut was shifted to the right a tiny amount, and when it moved to the right, the image would be shifted to the left. On fine type, this created the appearance of the “jaggies.”
    To counter this problem, Ed Eloranta, one of LMI’s engineers, invented the “anticipator,” which repositioned the optics so as to read slightly ahead on the artwork as the table oscillated back and forth, “anticipating” the forthcoming cuts and enabling the laser to produce perfectly aligned engravings during this photo-mechanical “raster” cutting.
    LMI’s 80-watt laser could engrave about three square inches per minute, with a small plaque taking about ten minutes to engrave. The operator could alter the depth of the cut by slowing down or speeding up the rate at which the table moved. The laser’s lens could also be adjusted to accommodate various thicknesses of material (up to 6"). The
     Model 101 was a “flowing gas” laser, which differs from today’s sealed tube lasers in one important respect: the gas inside the laser tube was provided by an external cylinder and flowed through the laser tube. Today’s lasers use “sealed tube” technology, so the gases are trapped inside the tube and remain there for the life of the tube. Says Lehner, “The biggest advantage to a flowing gas laser is that it’s repairable. With the sealed ones, if the laser goes down, you’re down until the manufacturer brings you back up. We had technicians that we could send out to a site and get a problem fixed. I discovered early on that a service problem becomes a people problem real fast if you’re not on top of it.”
    One strength of LMI’s early machines was that they were “relatively portable,” at least compared to the industrial lasers of that era. “Any place that had a 2' x 6' door, we could get the laser inside,” explains Lehner. The Model 101, which when assembled measured 4' wide, 7.5' deep, and weighed half a ton, could engrave a maximum image area about 16" left to right and 12" deep.
    “It was giant!” exclaims Mike Davis, publisher of The Engravers Journal.It was really an industrial-strength machine with massive, welded-steel components. It had an industrial feel to it, too. The aluminum engraving table was covered with holes drilled through it, and to hold your material you’d use bolts and clamps with the holes. There were no holding jigs.”
    It was huge compared with today’s desktop lasers, but it was smaller—and more affordable—than the industrial machines used by Laser Craft. And, most important, the engraving it produced looked great: in many cases, laser engraving done on wood with an LMI machine in 1980 would be indistinguishable from a job done today on any manufacturer’s system.
    One of the early problems LMI encountered was figuring out how to exhaust the smoke from the system. “At first we had problems generating the right kind of vacuum system. It’s not that the gases produced were hazardous—it was more like burning wood in a fireplace. So at some places we had trouble with the installation,” explains Lehner, who as LMI’s salesman, had to contend with the problems customers encountered. “I remember once, in Pennsylvania, this guy and his wife were looking at the equipment, and her concern was that her boy was going to be running this machine. She felt that we were bringing a hazardous machine into their plant that would affect her son’s health. I had to convince them there was no way that was going to happen."


Lyle "Pop" Lehner (center), became LMI's product manager/sales manager in 1981. Pop is flanked by customer Neal Schlee of Lasertech Alaska and LMI marketing manager, Arline Zdrazil. Photo circa 1988.   This laser engraved business card was sent by LMI with all of the early laser engraving literature to show off its ability to laser precise details.

    LMI’s Model 101 was a breakthrough in many ways; it was not only new technology that was oriented toward everyday engravers, but it bypassed the many steps that were required to produce a laser-engraved item by Laser Craft’s machines. As EJ’s Mike Davis explains, “LMI’s machine scanned the art directly, so all the peripheral and expensive steps, such as creating negatives from the art, doing a UV exposure and chemically engraving copper masks, could be skipped. It became a turnkey system that went directly from camera-ready art to an engraved piece.”
    As business increased, LMI quickly found they were out of room. “When Pop joined us, we were still in our basement,” says Lawson. “Soon, between our industrial business and our engraving business, there were 15 people out in our pole barn. In the spring of 1983, we moved into our first building in Somerset, Wisconsin.” LMI continued to grow, and continued advertising in EJ and exhibiting at trade shows to spread the word about the laser engraver.
    Initially, says Lehner, it was difficult to make people see the potential of the laser engraving machine. The machines were expensive: LMI’s 50-watt lasers sold for $45,000, and the 80-watt machines were $65,000. In addition, to really realize the full benefit of the machine, you needed a full scale graphics department with a typesetter, process camera, etc. This, too, was expensive, adding perhaps another $25,000 to the price of entry. “It took someone who was willing to take a chance to buy our machine,” says Lehner. To help people understand what the laser could do, Lehner used “solution selling”—selling solutions to people’s problems. “One guy, for example, lived in Alaska. He was a sharp guy. I said to him, ‘Neal, you’re in the craft business up there. You should be making things out of Alaskan materials. This laser marks wood like you wouldn’t believe. I hear there’s lots of birch up there, and people just look at it as junk. Why not make your craft pieces from birch?’ He picked up on the idea real fast and ended up sending me some of his finished products. It worked! He made some really neat stuff and ended up with two of our machines. It took that kind of planting ideas in people’s heads so they could take off with the thing we had and make it useful to their endeavor.”
    LMI’s machines were primarily good for engraving on wood, though Lawson explains that it could also mark glass, mirrors and some plastics. Since no laser-specific materials were available yet, LMI also encountered some resistance from customers who wanted to work in more than just wood.
    Nonetheless, lasers slowly began to catch on, and the look of finished pieces went a long way toward piquing the interest of the buying public. “The ad specialty industry has an amazing word-of-mouth communications network,” says Lawson. “They make money because they know how to get things that other people don’t. We had interesting-looking products, so when someone needed a unique look, the ad specialty people helped to spread the word about us.”
    For several years, LMI was the sole player in the field. Things were about to change, though, as technology unfolded and two new upstarts decided they wanted a piece of the laser pie.


Although utilizing the same photo-scanning principle as earlier LMI machines, the company's E-50 began to "anticipate" the self-contained desktop lasers which would soon become commonplace in the industry. 1987 photo.
Epilog pioneers (from left) John Doran, Tom Garnier, Steve Garnier and Mike Dean in 1991 at a trade show.

Enter Epilog
    As Bill Lawson and his staff were building and shipping LMI lasers in Wisconsin, an electrical engineer named Steve Garnier was doing motion control work for a company called Melco, manufacturers of embroidery equipment in Colorado. A friend of his, John Doran, was a rocket scientist (no pun intended) working for Lockheed-Martin who had built a laser in his basement. The two wanted to combine their talents, and they came up with a moving laser that could create graphic images.
    The two men knew laser engraving machines were already in existence, but they also knew that the existing machines were very large, non-computerized, expensive industrial-type machines. At this point (the late ’80s and early ’90s), computers had become more viable, and the pair thought they could improve on the laser machines that were out there by incorporating computers into the equation. As Mike Dean, who joined Epilog in 1991, explains, “Steve and John created a desktop-size laser that ran directly from a computer. It was a fraction of the cost of laser equipment available at the time and of equal importance, it eliminated the need for a bunch of expensive add-ons like typesetters and cameras.”
    Garnier and Doran sold the rights to their machine to Melco, and the company produced and sold their design in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Known as the Melco LE1, the machine used the same basic software that was used in Melco’s embroidery equipment. “Instead of scanning art, the laser used a computer program like CorelDRAW to electrically send the image to the laser. Then the laser worked like a computer printer,” says Mike Davis, “but instead of laying down dots of toner, it burned into wood, plastic, acrylic, etc.”
    It may not seem like a big deal these days, but back then the way this laser worked was revolutionary. And while LMI’s machines continued to be very expensive, these new machines were in the $20,000 to $25,000 range. Suddenly, people who had been dreaming about owning a laser found they could actually afford one, as they were selling in the same price range as computerized engraving machines.
    The Melco LE1 was not perfect, by any means. It had a 10-watt laser, so it didn’t have nearly the power that the LMI machines had. Also, although using the same software for both embroidery machines and lasers was perhaps understandable from Melco’s customers’ point of view, it was a poor decision when one looked at the quality of the finished piece.
     Roy Brewer, owner of Brewer Sales and currently a sales rep for both Epilog and Xenetech laser machines, explains the problem. “That software was okay for embroidery, but they insisted on running the same software with the lasers so people wouldn’t have to learn something new. The software built each line like it was a stitch in embroidery, which was very impractical for our industry. It was good in theory, but the lines were jagged and it just didn’t work out in the end.”
    In 1991, Garnier and Doran were working on the second generation of their laser in Garnier’s basement when Melco was purchased by a large Swiss textile company. This changed the dynamics at Melco, leading to Garnier’s departure and his subsequent formation of Epilog the same year.
    The first laser Epilog brought to market was the second-generation laser the two men had been working on in the basement, called the Eclipse. The Eclipse, which was capable of raster engraving, improved upon the pair’s first laser by upping the wattage—the Eclipse contained a 25-watt laser—and decreasing the price to about $18,000. While this was still a lot of money for most shop owners at the time, the new Eclipse was one step closer to becoming an attainable piece of equipment in mom-and-pop shops across the country.


The Melco LE1, circa 1991, used the same basic software as their embroidery equipment.

 

  The first laser Epilog brought to market was called the Eclipse. It was capable of raster engraving, used a 25-watt laser and was priced at about $18,000.

    The staff at Epilog spent 1991 continuing to develop the Eclipse and attending trade shows. While it wasn’t hard to convince people that the look of laser-engraved pieces was fantastic, convincing them that the Eclipse was an easy tool they could operate in their own business was an enormous obstacle,” says Dean. “Educating people on how the laser would create stunning graphics on a variety of materials was so far beyond most people’s imagination that it was difficult for them to understand what a laser did, even when they were standing right in front of it. People just had a hard time believing that they could produce this sort of product in their own shop, using nothing more than a scanner and a computer.”
Enter ULS
    At the same time that the minds behind Epilog were working to develop the Eclipse, another fledgling company was putting down roots—a company that would prove to be Epilog’s stiffest competition. In 1988, a Russian emigrant named Yefim Sukhman founded Applied Laser Technology for the purpose of manufacturing, marketing and selling laser marking and cutting systems. The ALT 2010, a vector-only laser engraver, sold in the $32,000-$36,000 range. The machine had a large engraving field at 11.5" x 17", although its software was somewhat difficult to learn.
    Soon after ALT introduced its first laser in 1989, the company struck a deal with Meistergram, the embroidery machine manufacturer, to be the exclusive distributor of all ALT’s low-watt machines. Meistergram was looking to diversify, and the engraving business looked like fertile ground. Meistergram also formulated an exclusive sales agreement with H-Square to sell H-Square’s line of computerized mechanical engraving machines.
    According to observers, ALT struck the deal with Meistergram partly to improve upon its software. ALT had discovered that while Epilog’s open-architecture software was fairly user-friendly, ALT’s was complicated and somewhat difficult for consumers to learn and use. (ALT retained the rights to distribute higher-watt machines.) Eventually, Sukhman dissolved ALT and formed Universal Laser Systems (ULS), in the process severing all ties with Meistergram.
    To spread the word about ULS and its desktop-sized lasers, the company began marketing at trade shows, hosting seminars on how to use laser engraving machines and advertising in The Engravers Journal. The race was on between Epilog and Universal Laser Systems to try and control the newly formed desktop-sized laser engraving market.


In 1988, a Russian emigrant named Yefim Sukhman (left) founded Applied Laser Technology, the predecessor to Universal Laser Systems. Photo circa 1992.   The ALT 2010, a vector-only laser engraver, sold in the $32,000-$36,000 range. The machine had a large engraving field, at 11.5" x 17", although its software was reportedly difficult to learn. Photo circa 1989, courtesy of Universal Laser Systems.

Others Join the Fray
    While there was certainly a rivalry between Epilog and ULS to dominate the market, competition was not especially fierce at first, because the laser engraving machine market was still relatively small. Many applications for lasers had not yet been developed, and the era of laser-friendly engraving materials had yet to arrive.
    As word began to spread about what lasers could do, more companies decided that they needed to get into the market. “It took five or six years for the competition to really heat up,” says Pop Lehner. “People weren’t used to spending that kind of money on new technology, and it took time to spread the word about lasers through word of mouth. I think everyone was wondering whether lasers would last for the long haul or turn out to be a fad.” Once people realized lasers were here to stay, various companies began clamoring to get a piece of the action.
    Despite inroads made by LMI, Epilog and ULS, most people in the engraving industry still didn’t know what lasers could do in the early 1990s. “The first time I saw Epilog’s laser, I think I was at a show in Long Beach,” says sales rep Roy Brewer. “Steve Garnier was there with just one machine and no literature, and there was really very little traffic at their booth. No one knew what that machine was.”
    It didn’t take long, however, for computerized engraving machine manufacturers to feel the pinch of the new technology. “It became obvious to most companies in the industry that they needed to get into lasers or fall behind the competition,” explains EJ Publisher, Mike Davis. “You had a situation where the companies that made computerized engraving machines started to see their market share stagnate. It’s not that shops were doing less mechanical engraving than they had in the past, but they were not buying new machines, either. Instead, when it came time to buy a new machine, they were buying lasers.”
    “This time period—encompassing the demise of LMI as the cornerstone of the laser engraving business—marks the end of the first era of lasering,” according to EJ Publisher, Mike Davis. Over about a 12 year period, LMI literally single-handedly created the means for do-it-yourself (in-house) laser engraving. During that time they sold their massive, industrial-strength equipment to a whole host of laser job shops and to a high percentage of the large shops in North America. Although LMI’s machines were definitely not for the masses of small dealers, they caused the widespread proliferation of lasering, such that “laser engraving” became a household word even among end users.
    “In fact,” according to Mike Davis, “the big ticket price tag of the equipment and all the related typesetting equipment is what made laser engraving a premium-priced process which is still true today to a large extent.” This combination of highly perceived value (of laser engraving) and the high profile that laser engraving had attained laid the groundwork for what was to come as the computer controlled “desktop lasers” began to gain momentum.
    The market was poised for a whole host of big developments on every lasering front, from the engraving capabilities available to the number of players in the marketplace, not to mention a growing stream of laser-friendly products to engrave. The business was about to take off in a way that hadn’t been seen since a decade earlier when computer controlled mechanical engraving first arrived on the scene. EJ’s next installment in this series will pick up on this exciting, free-wheeling era in the history of the R&I Industry. Watch for it!

 

 

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