Turkish delight: A growing industrial laser market

Only in use for a decade, industrial laser systems show promise internally and as a domestically produced export product

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Only in use for a decade, industrial laser systems show promise internally and as a domestically produced export product

Selim Atasoy

The Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, and among the first steps taken by the country were efforts to catch up to the industrial level of the countries in Western Europe. This movement halted because of World War II, but after the war, with support from the U.S. Marshall Plan, it was revived. During the Cold War, Turkey maintained close relations with the U.S. and as a result preferred to buy directly from U.S. and other European countries, especially from the defense and automotive industries. At the 1974 “Cyprus peace operation” U.S. and other European countries imposed an embargo on daily goods and defense industry. Turkey decided to improve its industry to be self-sufficient with the big step for industrialization beginning in the 1980s.

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The general growth rate for 2004, published by OECD, was 10 percent, making Turkey number two after China. In 2005 the national gross production is expected to be almost U.S. $76 billion for the industrial sector. The expected capacity utilization for 2005 is 81.5 percent. Imports represent 64.8 percent, but this rate has been reducing for four years.

The main government policy in supporting and creating an industrial sector is to force the banks to give attractive interest credits to industrial companies, export support, tax reduction, supporting customs union with EU countries, quotas for Chinese products, making it easier for foreign investment and joint ventures, and so on.

The government also offers direct credit supports to industrial companies that want to invest in making new machines and hiring employees. Some government-related high technology R&D organizations like TUBITAK (The Scientific & Technological Research Council of Turkey), TTGV (Technology Development Foundation of Turkey), and GYTE (Gebzc Institute of Technology) give low-cost credits and technical know-how support to companies that want to invest in new technologies. The only stipulation for receipt of such credits is developing a unique technology. At the same time technical universities have photonic laboratories dedicated to industrial laser research.

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FIGURE 1. The first Turkish-made 4kW laser cutting machine was produced by Ermaksan.
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The history of laser processing in Turkey begins with cutting applications in the1990s, when imported cutting machines, especially products from European machine manufacturers, began to be installed in automotive and defense industry companies. Since 2000, the Turkish dealers of these foreign companies focused on laser applications rather than on their own systems business. As a result, local laser process machine manufacturing was limited to low-power CO2 lasers, used mostly by the textile and sign making industry. Some special industrial manufacturers and automotive and defense subcontractors began to invest in laser welding machines starting in 2003. Recently, Istanbul Technical University developed, with government support, a laser cutting machine equipped with a 3kW CO2 laser from PRC, II-VI optics, and a Laser Mechanisms cutting head. GYTE conducts projects involving holographic data storage and laser cladding applications. Other laser projects include laser guidance systems for missiles, lasers for medical operations, laser marking, and developing laser welding and drilling performance.

The total number of high-power CO2 laser units installed in Turkey is between 200 and 250 machines, the majority of which are in job shops. This number covers only industrial metal fabricating applications where the lasers are primarily used for cutting processes. There are a few laser welding job shops and a few applications in medical, scanning, 3D modeling, and rapid prototyping.

Most of the market share belongs to TRUMPF, followed by Bystronic, then in order Mazak, LVD, Prima Industrie, Lasercomp, Amada, Finn-Power, Messer Griesheim, and Schuler. Current annual sales, including second-hand used machines, are 50-60 machines per year, and this number is growing about 20 percent annually. The lasers are mostly CO2 for cutting applications with a limited number of Nd:YAG laser/robot systems for cutting applications. A few laser welding systems, using mostly Rofin-Sinar products, are installed in automotive and defense industry subcontractors. There are no laser cladding and hardening machines in the market at this time.

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FIGURE 2. The Arges series textile cutting machine from Best Bilgisayer (www.best.com.tr) is equipped with a Universal Laser System’s 25W-100W sealed CO2 laser.
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Some local sheet metal forming machine manufacturers, such as press brake, punching, and plasma cutting machine producers, are planning to invest in high-power CO2 laser cutting machines that are suitable for job shops and industrial applications. Their main goal is to serve as an alternative for companies whose budget is not large enough to invest in a new European machine and those who do not want to buy a plasma cutting machine because of the laser’s flexibility. Most probably in 2006 four of these companies will introduce their first machines to the market with the power range between 1.5kW and 5kW. There is strong competition between Rofin Inc., Fanuc, PRC, and El En to supply laser sources.

Meanwhile, Ermaksan (Bursa; www.ermaksan.com) introduced the first 4kW laser cutting machine to the world market at EMO in Hannover, Germany, in September. This machine was equipped with a Fanuc CO2 laser source, II-VI Inc. optics and beam benders, a Precitec cutting head, and other related products for high-speed cutting applications.

Another group of local laser cutting manufacturers focuses on the low-power (10-100 W) CO2 laser range, with machines designed for the needs of the textile and sign-making industries. Most of the laser source competition is between Synrad and Universal Laser Systems in this group.

Other systems are imported by TRUMPF, Bystronic, Mazak, Amada, LVD, Prima Industrie, Lasercomp, and Elcede and robot companies such as Kuka and ABB.

Alp Mühendislik (Atasehir/Istanbul; www.alpmuhendislik.net) focuses on the laser end-user and manufacturer markets, in combination with well-known companies such as II-VI, Precitec KG, Primes GmbH, and Universal Laser Systems, to follow the needs of these markets and to technically support companies with turnkey projects.

The geographic position of Turkey-close to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean Ocean-and its historic relationship with Middle Asian countries has allowed domestic machine manufacturers to look to these markets. Now, with the beginning of European Union negotiations, these manufacturers will begin to sell their high-tech products into Europe, with high standard products demanded by this market. The latter will accelerate the growth of the system manufacturing sector.

The future of Turkey’s industrial laser processing depends on its high growth performance, enlarged worldwide trade possibilities, improved economic position, and easier foreign investments. Indeed, this current growth period will bring new laser application needs, which means new installed systems and, indirectly, academic developments.

Selim Atasoy (satasoy@alpmuhendislik.net) is with Alp Mühendislik Mümessillik Tic.ve San. Ltd. Sti. Atasehir/Istanbul,Turkey, www.alpmuhendislik.net.


Lasers in the jewelry industry

Turkey is a country that has, since its birth, experienced considerable strife on an economic level. Only in the past 25 years has the country developed an industrial manufacturing base outside of the previously dominant textile industry. Today agro processing, iron and steel, cement, chemicals, and a growing auto industry are key contributors to the country’s economic growth and among the reasons the country has applied for membership in the European Union.

In the laser processing area the use of lasers to process jewelry has become a significant business. Turkey is now the world’s fourth largest market for gold jewelry, the third largest manufacturing center, and the second biggest exporter. In this industry laser technology is being increasingly utilized for cutting, welding, marking, and repairs.

It is estimated that there are several hundred solid-state lasers installed in Turkey for jewelry applications by companies such as Crafford/LaserStar, Rofin Sinar, Laservall, DMG, and SISMA. - DAB

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