Thursday, December 2, 2010

Homestretch perspectives

It’s hard to believe but we are in the homestretch of 2010, with the end of the year just a few short weeks away. The speed with which the year passed may be attributable to the increase in business for most aspects of industrial laser material processing. It started in San Francisco last January where the buzz at Photonics West was the turnaround in the markets. At LASYS in Stuttgart, halfway through the year, industry recovery was being openly talked about, with fingers crossed, as reality set in. At EuroBlech in Hannover and Fabtech in Atlanta this fall, the end of the recession was obvious as exhibitors were once again finding strong quoting action from show attendees.

There is no question that the expansive activity in the semiconductor, microprocessing, energy and medical device markets spurred record sales at solid-state and fiber laser manufacturers. Revenue growth was almost enough to offset the laggard fabricated metal product markets for high power CO2 lasers. The introduction of new fiber laser powered sheet metal cutters helped to generate lost revenue in that market as this cutting technology was finding new customers.

At EuroBlech, a half dozen new fiber laser cutter suppliers showed products, bringing the total of product suppliers to more than 25. Does this market need this many equipment suppliers? Fair question, except one must remember that there are more than 75 companies offering CO2 powered metal cutting systems globally. And most of the fiber laser cutter suppliers sell CO2 systems also.

Looked at from a different perspective, one could speculate that for the most part fiber laser cutter equipment is basically another product in the sales catalog of CO2 sales people, so to them a sale is just a sale. Concerning the laser makers, less than a handful manufacture only one laser type, with most now offering a choice to system integrators.

Considering this, one might ask why there is competition between CO2 and fiber lasers for sheet metal cutting. There seems to be sufficient business to satisfy most everyone. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out in 2011.

Speaking of 2011, business prospects look good for a continuation of the growth pattern set in 2010. The great unknown is the economic situation in Europe and the fall out from this impacting North America and Asia. This situation has the makings of a market buster, but at this time we do not have a reason to adjust our very positive forecast that will appear in the January /February issue of ILS.

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