More Fabtech takeaways: Channel rumblings, fiber laser's ceiling

Las Vegas, NV - Following ILS' observations about the recent Fabtech expo in Las Vegas, NV, Mark Douglass from Longbow Research has shared his own key takeaways from the event which echo our own.

The mood at Fabtech was busy and positive at least about the show itself, though Douglass says the mood was more optimistic at IMTS a few weeks prior. Expectations are for a flat 2013 in terms of equipment and systems sales, which "is probably a best case," he admits -- given headwinds of tax rate increases, higher healthcare costs, and reduced depreciations. He also cites "rumblings" in the channel warning of "a dramatic fall-off in manufacturing, especially heavy equipment, in 4Q12 and likely 1Q13 to balance inventories."

The fiber laser segment continues to be a bright spot, and Douglass noted their increased presence at this year's show. "All of the major cutting system manufacturers, including Amada, Trumpf, Bystronic, Mazak, and now Mitsubishi have a fiber or disk," he noted, with other notable OEMs also highlighting fiber including BLM, Prima, and Salvagnini. Alternatives to IPG aside from Trumpf and Amada "were few and far between," though Douglass observed examples for RSTI (Bystronic, and a European OEM) and Hypertherm (with an Ohio-based OEM). Coherent could ship its 1 kW fiber laser by year's end or early 2013, Douglass notes, to be incorporated not in its own Metabeam system as well as OEM systems, and the firm is planning multi-kW products in the next year. Jenoptik, which wasn't at Fabtech but was at IMTS, is "getting traction with its 1 kW," he added.

Douglass also noted a number of 4 kW fiber laser introductions, which he says is "likely the new norm for metal cutting" as it enables not only high-speed thin-sheet metal cutting but also flexibility in cutting thicker materials (though CO2 is still the preference). "With every major OEM now demonstrating a fiber/disk laser it certainly legitimizes and solidifies the place of this newer generation of
solid state lasers in the industry," Douglass writes.

As metal fabricators become more familiar with fiber laser technology and as the technology widens its use into thicker metal cutting, Douglass sees the solid-state technology ultimately grabbing 50% or even 75% of the cutting systems market, vs. today's 20%-25%.

More broadly, solid-state lasers is becoming a crowded arena beyond fiber. Douglass spotlighted TeraDiode, which showcased its 2 kW direct-diode laser with 4 mm-mrad beam quality in a 100 μm fiber and ~40% target wall-plug efficiency (vs. ~30% for fiber lasers). The company promises beta shipments to OEMs in 1Q13, and a scale-up to several kW later in the year.

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