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Industrial laser sales set to tumble

30 Mar 2009

Sales of lasers for industrial uses are falling, but fibre lasers should bounce back first.

Industrial applications for lasers of all kinds are being hit hard by the economic downturn. If sales patterns continue in their current pattern, the overall industrial laser market will fall by 32% in 2009, back to the level of 2004, according to Strategies Unlimited.

Sales should subsequently return to 2008 levels by 2013, helped by military, biomedical instruments, and energy-related applications. However, many materials processing applications, from laser marking to metal cutting and welding, will take longer to recover. Fibre laser sales will show a shallower decline of 24%, and subsequently bounce back more strongly.

"Sales of fibre lasers should recover faster than other varieties of laser," commented Tom Hausken of Strategies Unlimited to optics.org. "They are still breaking into new applications in sheet metal cutting, microfabrication, medical treatments, and sensing. They will also capture some market share from other laser types, and from approaches that don't use lasers at all. That won't help much in the short term, but it will make a big difference in the long term."

The industrial laser business is highly fragmented, with the top ten suppliers earning about 86% of available revenues, and several dozen smaller suppliers sharing less than 5% of the market. Coherent and TRUMPF remain at the top of the list in market share, while IPG Photonics continues to dominate fibre laser sales.

The severity of the recession is forcing suppliers to make hard decisions about their pricing, according to Hausken. "I have heard of some significant price discounts since last autumn, but it is my hope that suppliers hold the line as much as possible," he said. "Price drops might win an order, but they cut the revenues for everyone. The consequences are pretty dire. It's bad enough that unit sales are falling so sharply. If prices fall sharply too then revenues drop even more, and it's not good for anybody to take a hit like that, not even the customers."

Once the economy recovers, Hausken expects to see a landscape of fewer players operating in fewer niches. "The recession breaks a nearly unbroken string of growth for both fibre lasers and industrial lasers in general," he noted. "For the next several years the business will appear less like a steady, growing, still-young market and more like a cyclic one, more typical of mature capital markets."

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