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Laser market hits the spot and then some

Investments in machine tools and telecom equipment, and substantial growth of sales into China, were keys to a strong recovery

The laser market surpassed expectations in 2010 and 2011, growing 52% since the low in 2009 and setting a new record and is anticipated to exceed $9 billion by 2015.

Sales for lasers slowed in late 2011 in the uncertain economic climate, but the outlook for long-term growth is still strong.

Sales for 2012 are expected to be approximately flat, with growth returning in 2013 and reaching $9.4 billion by 2015. These are among the findings in the report, "The Worldwide Market for Lasers: Market Review and Forecast - 2012", from Strategies Unlimited.

Fibre laser sales in 2011 grew 114% over the 2008 level, thanks to strong sales in kilowatt lasers for sheet metal cutting and pulsed lasers for marking. IPG Photonics regained its 70% share among fibre laser suppliers with the recovery. A looming question is how many other suppliers can capture sales in the lucrative kilowatt fibre laser segment?

Strong sales in tablet computers and smartphones helped sales of laser-based equipment for semiconductor, display, and electronics fabrication. Sales of biomedical instrumentation also helped the recovery. Military spending has peaked, but many programs that use laser-based equipment will have a long tail, or even long term growth, such as infrared countermeasures and dazzlers.

Only lasers for data storage are in for harder times, as prices decline and the world turns more toward other forms of storage. But even there, lasers show promise in enabling magnetic storage to achieve the next generation in hard drives, possibly opening a large new opportunity for lasers.

Just five companies earned over 50% of the industrial laser revenues: Coherent, TRUMPF, Cymer, IPG Photonics, and Rofin-Sinar. Among companies making strategic acquisitions last year, optics companies stand out, such as Newport and CVI Melles Griot.
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