The laser cutting market is expected to grow significantly in 2017 and beyond. Let’s look at the factors driving this trend and the long term outlook for laser cutting as an industry. We’ll also address shifting technologies affecting the laser cutting industry.
Factors Driving the Growth of Laser Cutting
Laser cutting technology is faster than mechanical cutting, and it is in demand for metal fabrication and micro-cutting. The minimal machine footprint and high dynamics make it attractive for cutting all types of materials. YAG lasers for cutting applications are increasingly being used for customer electronics and industrial uses. The integration of computer aided design software with manufacturing systems allows companies to create a 3D model and then let the laser cutter create it if a 3D printer cannot make it.
Laser Cutting Technology Market Share
Lower power fiber laser cutting machines have about sixty percent of the market as of 2017; they were half of the industrial laser market in 2014. Low power solid state laser cutting controls about thirteen percent of the market; this share is going to decline over the future due to competition from low power fiber laser cutting tools that provide superior performance because of their lower sensitivity to the external environment. The large size of solid state lasers and their high overall cost means they’ll likely be replaced with lower cost, higher quality, new laser cutting equipment as they wear out. Low power carbon dioxide laser cutters are 15% of the market, and they are losing market share. All other laser cutting technologies such as disc lasers account for about ten percent of the market.
Consumer electronics are expected to be the fastest growing segment using laser cutters. The cutters are used for cutting, engraving and welding. These applications, in particular, demand higher power (1 kW to 12 kW) inputs and highly efficient devices. General assembly is utilizing more laser cutters as they automate manufacturing plants, whether the equipment is used to cut ceramics, alloys, stainless steel or non-ferrous metals. Fiber lasers can be used to cut brass and copper, though there is still limited demand for this. The industrial laser cutter market in general is overwhelmingly fiber laser technology.
The compound annual growth rate or CAGR for laser cutting machines depends on the type. Low power fiber laser cutters are expected to grow 8.5% CAGR between 2016 and 2021. Low power carbon dioxide lasers have a lower 5% CAGR through 2021, and low power solid state laser cutting is expected to grow at the same rate.
Carbon dioxide lasers remain in demand because of their typically lower price compared to fiber lasers, and the fact that fiber lasers can’t always cut thicker materials. The carbon dioxide laser will likely remain in use for cutting thicker pieces of steel and aluminum.
Gas lasers are being used to make better machine tools and equipment used to make holograms. The GACR for gas lasers is thought to be nearly 10%.
Growth rates depend on the technology used. Fusion cutting lasers are expected to grow at a CAGR of nearly 10% through 2024. Those selling ultrafast lasers saw high demand even in slow market segments because they promise to increase productivity of the assembly line. The world’s leading laser fiber manufacturer, IPG Photonics, saw 22% growth in 2015 even when the Great Recession had flattened demand. TRUMPF, the largest industrial supplier in the world, saw nearly 17% growth in 2015 though global industry growth was in the single digits. From 2014 to 2016, if there had not been double digit growth in the profits from fiber laser cutting equipment sales, the industrial laser market would have been almost flat.
The laser cutting market as a whole is expected to hit almost seven billion dollars in value by 2024. The market was worth less than four billion dollars in 2015.
The Asian Pacific region is the largest market for laser cutters, and rising GDP and domestic markets are expected to keep it so over the next decade. Regional growth in the consumer electronics, automotive and semiconductor manufacturing industries in Asia, in particular, is consuming the production of laser cutting equipment.
Rapid industrialization in developing economies like India, Brazil and South Africa is increasing demand for laser cutting equipment. In the developed west, solid state laser cutters are being challenged by industrialized fiber and disk lasers.
Laser cutting technology is growing rather quickly because of the number of materials it can cut and improving quality of work. The growth rate depends on the type of laser cutting technology used; fiber is growing fast while steady state lasers and carbon dioxide lasers are losing market share. Asia remains the main market for laser cutters, while the developing world is beginning to adopt laser cutters for automobiles, consumer electronics and other industrial uses.