Demands for laser equipment have been changing
The laser industry in China is developing at an annual growth rate of 15%. These lasers are being applied in various industries where laser technologies will play an important role in the transformation and upgrade of China’s manufacturing industry. Conservative estimates place the 2011 production value of the China laser industry at RMB 7.0 billion (~$1.1 billion US), and the number of domestic high-power lasers produced will be around 1,000 units. Will this 2011 performance continue in the new year? And what strategies will be taken by the key suppliers in the industry to accomplish this? Lora Xie, senior research manager at Industrial Laser Solutions China (www.industrysourcing.com), interviewed a number of top experts and key players in the China laser industry, and she shares these professionals’ comments.
Status quo and development of the China laser industry
Wu Jianguo, president of Suzhou Lead Laser Technology Co. Ltd. (www.szlead.com), has been working in the China laser manufacturing industry for many years. In his opinion, in the laser industry in China, low power laser equipment accounts for about 80% of total production value in the laser industry. The proportional share of high power laser equipment is not high, with production value about RMB 2 billion. These manufacturers are mainly located in Shanghai, the Pearl River Delta, and Wuhan. In this industrial data, only the production value of the equipment was calculated, and the production value of the national laser processing industry was not included.
According to Mr. Wu, domestic lasers hold a market share of about 20% of the equipment in China, while imported lasers hold a market share of 80%. This leaves development space for domestic lasers in the future. Currently, there are about 22 domestic companies succeeding with high power lasers, each having certain advantages with their products.
Luo Jingwen, general manager of Shanghai Unity Prima Laser Machinery Co. Ltd. (www.unityprima.com), says that in the future 10 to 20 years, China will still be the market with the fastest growth in the world, and it will become the leading market in the worldwide laser industry. With the change of its industrial structure, the huge domestic market demand of laser equipment in China, as well as a wide range of world markets to be developed, China must develop core technologies with intellectual property rights in the future.
Professor Zhong Minlin of the Laser Processing Research Center of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in Tsinghua University is very proud of the achievements in the laser additive manufacturing (LAM) field in China, and he thinks that the research, development, and industrialization of LAM technologies in China is comparable to those in any developed countries. It is a pity that there is still a gap in the laser industry in China when compared with developed countries. For example, a large quantity of high performance lasers are imported every year; the key components in the laser systems still depend on those in foreign countries; the depth and range in the research of laser processing are not sufficient; and there is still a gap between the research and development and the industrialization of precision laser processing technologies.
As seen by Mr. Liu Xingsheng, director of Xi’an Focuslight Technologies Co. Ltd. (www.focuslight.com.ca), China’s laser processing industry is good at equipment manufacturing. However, in the whole industry chain, some fundamental elements are lacking, including the self-intellectual property rights of core components and core materials. To change the status quo, enterprises in China need to create their own laser sources.
Trends of major companies
Han’s Laser (www.hanslaser.com) began to offer high power fiber lasers on a limited basis in 2010, and in May 2011 it established global strategic cooperation plans with IPG Photonics, with a goal to develop a wider range of applications for cutting and welding with high power fiber lasers.
Shanghai Unity Prima Laser Machinery Co. Ltd. (www.unityprima.com) is a company specializing in producing high power laser cutting and welding equipment, as well as special laser equipment. In 2011, the target quantity of domestic sales was 330 units. Internalization is an important strategy at Shanghai Unity Prima Laser Machinery: in the future 5 to 10 years, the company will introduce new talents and technology developed internally. The next target for product development is high efficiency and high intelligence. Within five years, Shanghai Unity Prima aims to rank as one of the top four companies in the worldwide laser industry and to participate in the global high-end competitions for high-added-value applications.
Xi’an Focuslight Technologies Co. Ltd. is a company specializing in R&D, production, sales, and application of high-power semiconductor lasers. The short-term development planning of the company is to rank among the top five in the world in three years, and to rank among the top three in the world in five years. The future development target is to become a company of high-end semiconductor lasers with world class competitiveness.
Beijing GK Laser Technology Co. Ltd. (www.gklaser.com) is a manufacturer of high-end semiconductor pumped lasers and solid-state lasers, with the Chinese Academy of Sciences holding a majority share. Mr. Fan Zhongwei, director of the company, thinks that in the coming 10 to 20 years, semiconductor pumped lasers, though impacted by fiber lasers, will still be important on the basis of their advantages in flexible selections such as wavelength, pulse width, and repeatable frequencies.
TRUMPF (www.trumpf.com) achieved outstanding performance in FY 2010/2011, recording the largest sales increase in the history of the company, with sales reaching Euro 2.025 billion (~$2.65 billion US), an increase of 51% over the previous year. While TRUMPF achieved outstanding performances in the world, TRUMPF China is developing faster. Markus Lindermann, director of sales & marketing, Laser Division, TRUMPF (China) Co. Ltd., points out that localization and customization are certainly the trends. TRUMPF is planning to establish laser production lines in Asia, so as to speed up the localization process.
At Huagong (www.hglaser.com), there are advanced high-end laser brands such as HUARAY and RAYCUS, and there is manufacturing of integrated system equipment divided into three sectors: precision microprocessing, high power cutting and welding systems, and surface treatment. These latter operate as independent brands to ensure they can become strong in their own fields. With breakthroughs in key technologies such as fiber lasers and UV lasers, Huagong maintains a compound annual growth rate of over 50% in the businesses of small- and middle-power systems, providing services to high end product manufacturers, such as Apple. However, Huagong still focuses on high-end middle and high power equipment. From 2011 onward, the next strategy of Huagong Laser is internalization, aiming to promote its manufacturing to the high end, and improve its service quality.
Currently, the demands for laser equipment in the China market have changed, with a gradual transfer to the middle- and high-end products. As suggested by Min Dayong, director of Wuhan Huagong Laser Engineering Co. Ltd., enterprises in the industry will grasp the opportunities from China’s “Twelfth Five-Year Plan”, end the status of past low-end manufacturing, and jointly develop a better future for the laser processing industry in China.
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