At the first National Modern Machining Process Conference (1974) in Chicago, I stated that, after a decade of premature promises, lasers had begun to lose the sobriquet ‘a solution looking for a problem’ and were finally turning from the innovation phase to the practical stage of serial product development, with a number of companies established to serve basic industrial markets. This was a rather bold statement, as the industrial laser systems market at that time was estimated to be about $30 million (in 1974 dollars) with some 180 units being installed.
Just five years later in a recurring column in Electro-Optical Systems Design (July 1979), I showed some hutzpah by predicting that by 1989, walking through super-clean factories, one would see high-power CO lasers welding thin metal at high speeds, while air-breathing lasers (operating at minimal cost) produced beams for heat treating and banks of solid-state lasers drilled holes in plastic molds, all guided by alignment-controlled lasers. In 1980, 875 industrial laser systems worth $105 million were sold—the applications forecast made then ended up being too hasty.
But sales in 1990 did reach $1.2 billion, as more than 5000 units were installed. Japan, with 42% market share, led the market, driven mainly by CO2 lasers for sheet metal cutting. The next decade was great for industrial laser systems, with unit sales growing 250% and revenues showing a 9% CAGR.
In 2000, as I celebrated 30 years in industrial laser materials processing, average annual system unit growth was 14% and revenue growth in this period approached 22%. In an end-of-the century perspective I wrote for The Industrial Laser User (1999), I again went out on a limb by stating, “When the history of industrial lasers is written, the 90‘s will be referred to as the golden years of laser growth.”
Missed again, the market has grown 500% since 2000 with annual system revenues approaching $19 billion in 2019. Clearly, this first two-decade period of the new millennium has been the golden years for industrial laser material processing, even with the most devastating recession in its history. Interestingly, this market led the laser industry out of the 2008-2009 recession in a little more than a year, with robust growth that has lasted up to 2019. Driving all of this was the introduction of if high-power fiber lasers.
During this period, total revenues for industrial laser system revenues passed the $150-billion level with laser metal cutting at more than $50 billion—the single largest system revenue-generating application. Is it no wonder that Industrial Laser Solutions tracks this market sector for industry financial health considerations?
So, here I am celebrating 50 years in industrial laser materials processing (technically on April 1st), covering a period which saw the technology grow at a healthy CAGR level of over 6%. For the record, Industrial Laser Solutions was the first publication (1986) to generate annual sales data for this technology.
Throughout 2020, I‘ll be sharing with you certain events reported in the 34-year history of this publication that I consider especially significant.
In this issue, which has as a theme of micromachining, we lead off with a current status review of 2020's hot technology, ultrashort-pulse (USP) laser processing. Ron Schaeffer sets the table with his review of this industry sector. Ron worked diligently to collect the presented data and missing suppliers are either because of language difficulties (this technology is very global) or that old laser industry problem left over from its proprietary R & D days, raring its head today as intellectual property. Three features on growing industrial applications for these lasers are offered by Milt Vardakis and associates at Clark-MXR, a pioneering company in developing and finding applications for USP lasers; Eric Mottay, CEO of Amplitude Lasers and a recurring contributor to Industrial Laser Solutions; and Andreas Thoss, an Industrial Laser Solutions Editorial Advisor and Managing Director of THOSS Media, who will be a frequent contributor in 2020.
Todd Lizotte, President & CEO of BOLD Laser Automation, changes topics to a fresh and promising subject: digital laser stamping. And I, for the 34th time, will share my views of 2019 industrial laser revenues and the forecast for the new year.