Applications Will Bolster the Industrial Laser Market
2002 may be a year of zero growth for industrial lasers, but advances in technology
and their wider application will keep the sector strong in the long run.
According to analysts, the worldwide market
for the laser sources and systems used in industrial materials processing has shown,
on average, double-digit annual growth over the past five years. This trend should
continue over the next few years, despite the global economic malaise and the events
of Sept. 11. These factors may predominate in 2002 and lead to a year of zero growth,
mainly attributable to the slowdown in North America and to the weak semiconductor
and electronics markets in Asia.
Many things contributed to the growth of the industrial
laser as a viable tool in the 20th century. Among these were a strong machine tool
industry and innovative automotive manufacturers who integrated lasers into their
production lines. Today, many more industries have recognized the advantages of
laser materials processing with respect to product design and optimization, and
to just-in-time manufacturing.
Laser materials processing continues to move beyond the automotive
plant to new industrial applications, such as the production of medical stents.
Most recently, laser marking and microprocessing
in the semiconductor and electronics industries have shown the greatest growth,
driven by extremely short product-innovation cycle times and by the need for miniaturization
and for flexible, permanent marking for identification purposes. Applications, such
as the fine cutting of stents for medicine and microwelding for the electronics
and telecommunications industries, also play a major role, and they will continue
to do so.
Finding new applications
New laser technologies will open new industrial
markets. One example is remote laser welding, in which CO2 slab lasers are used
with scanning optics to weld automotive parts, such as doors, yielding extremely
efficient movement times compared with conventional robotic spot welders. Lasers
are also entering areas such as 3-D laser material removal (competing against spark
erosion), laser deposit welding with filler wire for the repair and maintenance
of tools, and injection molding. Another promising application is the microstructuring
of solar cells, in which lasers — rather than knives — will make the
Growth in solid-state lasers will surpass
growth in CO2 lasers, particularly as diode pumping replaces lamp pumping. New laser
designs, such as the solid-state disc laser, and the expansion of applications that
require frequency-doubled and -tripled sources also will continue to yield new markets.
Solid-state industrial lasers, such as this
diode-pumped Nd:YAG, are expected to surpass the CO2 laser in terms of growth. Photos
courtesy of Rofin-Sinar Inc.
Finally, there will be new, direct
applications for laser diodes, which will no longer be limited to metal hardening
and welding but will be used in the processing of plastic materials.
Meet the author
Thorsten Frauenpreis is a public relations and
marketing manager at Rofin-Sinar Laser GmbH in Hamburg, Germany. He holds a master’s
degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Hannover in Germany.
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