Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The sharks are circling

This blogger has been on a bit of a hiatus enjoying some picture perfect vacation weather here in New England. Not that you particularly care but the month of July set temperature records here and we experienced several 90 degree heat waves during the month.

One consequence of this was rising water temperatures that caused the seal population along the Cape Cod coast to increase dramatically drawing the attention of Great White Sharks that also posed threats to salt water enthusiasts.

I’ve just finished compiling data for a review of fiber laser systems used for sheet metal cutting that will appear in the September/October issue of Industrial Laser Solutions. I identified a dozen suppliers that will exhibit flat sheet cutters at one or more of the big international machine tool shows scheduled for the next three months.

What is significant is the growth of the fiber laser as the heat source for this major applications sector. It is estimated that about 100 flat sheet fiber laser cutters were sold in 2009, an accomplishment in a year which saw sales in the entire sector drop by as much as half at some equipment suppliers. Based on my estimate of the 2009 flat sheet laser cutting market, this means the fiber laser now represents about 3% of total sales. And indications are that the unit numbers could double in 2010, especially as these laser systems will be highlighted at the big fabricating shows.

Three new players in this market, Amada/JDSU, TRUMPF and Hypertherm, will create some excitement at these shows, mostly because they will introduce new fiber lasers into the marketplace, posing new competition for industry leader IPG Photonics.

What can come of this is the possibility of significant growth in the fiber laser metal cutting business. Amada and TRUMPF are already among the market leaders with their CO2 powered units and Hypertherm, known for plasma technology, is offering a fiber laser package to system integrators. Whether these sales are pirated from CO2 laser sales remains to be seen, but the thinking is that even if some of this occurs it will not diminish the impact of sales to current non-laser users. There are a large number of shops now cutting sheet metal that have chosen not to invest in laser cutting, chief among these are shops using plasma, which might want to expand into precision cutting of thin gauge stainless steel, for example.. Will they now be tempted by the new fiber laser cutters? Some in the industry are betting on yes.

There are other fiber laser/system suppliers that can also impact the fabricated metal products market when they crank up their promotion. This could happen as this market sector finally recovers from a two year recession that has not, until now, shown the rapid rebound experienced by other industrial laser market sectors.

The temperature of the metal cutting market is rising drawing customers and, like the seals in the waters off the Cape Cod coast attracting sharks, in this case new market entrants ready to challenge the industry leader.

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