02 Nov 2007
Sheet metal cutting and micro applications lead the growth in the fiber laser market, according to the latest report from Strategies Unlimited.
Total revenues generated from fiber laser sales will grow by 26% per year through to 2011. That's according to Tom Hausken of market analyst Strategies Unlimited, who predicts that sheet metal cutting and micro applications will be the strongest contributors to growth.
The report, entitled "Fiber laser market review and forecast - 2007", predicts that the strongest opportunities in both growth rate and absolute dollars will lie in applications that use low- to mid-range average power, and often require Q-switching or mode-locked ultrafast operation, such as microfabrication.
"Fiber lasers, which generally operate at 1.0 or 1.5 microns, are very effective for marking, microfabrication, remote welding and fiber sensors," Tom Hausken, director of components research, told optics.org. "There is also a lot of interesting work applying fiber lasers to sheet metal cutting and using fiber amplifiers with seed lasers in a MOPA design for UV and other short wavelengths. It's not yet clear how successful these newer approaches will be, but the opportunities are large for those who succeed. New designs for pulsed and short wavelength fiber lasers will be important to watch."
According to Hausken, fiber lasers are only competitive against carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers and solid-state lasers, and sometimes direct-diode systems. "Fiber lasers are not the first choice for high peak power pulses or lithography. These positions are held by lamp-pumped solid-state lasers and excimer lasers, respectively," he explained. "CO2 lasers are guaranteed a place for marking, cutting glass and organic materials and for low-cost engraving. CO2 lasers will also be the one to beat for sheet metal cutting for many years."
The industrial laser market as a whole will grow at nearly 10% per year over the next four years of which Hausken says fiber lasers will not be the main growth driver. "Fiber lasers will see a larger growth rate than other types of lasers," he said. "But in aggregate, sales of other types of lasers will exceed the growth of fiber lasers in absolute dollars over the period of the forecast."
Several prominent laser suppliers announced fiber laser products this year including GSI, Newport, Rofin-Sinar, and Trumpf. Hausken believes that the big players in the fiber laser market will change in the next few years. "IPG Photonics dominates growth in the fiber laser business today, and it has some advantages in economies of scale that will be hard to counter," he said. "SPI Lasers is in distant second place. Coherent is conspicuously absent, but I'm sure that it will be a very different landscape in five years."
The report also highlights some large questions that remain, such as how much vertical integration is necessary to succeed in the fiber laser market. Hausken believes that there are many valid perspectives. "Vertical integration may be essential for a high-power fiber laser supplier so that it can control its overall costs, IPG started fabricating its own diodes for this very reason," he commented. "SPI Lasers emphasize that only by making its own specialty fiber can it make a more competitive design. Trumpf claims that its vertical integration of system products gives it additional knowledge and credibility with customers."
The report predicts that in the future, revenues should never completely level off, because of the growth of the global economy. "There is no monolithic laser market, it is made up of market segments," explained Hausken. "There are a lot of market dynamics, such as the cycles of the semiconductor industries. At that level, some applications are emerging and growing while others are maturing and slowing, or even occasionally in decline."
Demand is another important growth dynamic and the call from customers varies. "Firms buy new capital equipment in good times, and forego purchases in bad times," concluded Hausken. "Another issue is the inertia of factories to adopt new laser technology in their processes. It often requires a 'champion' within a key company to drive new technology."