Lynn Savage, email@example.com
If there is a recession, somebody needs to remind the laser industry. Despite a miserable
two years for most industries – especially real estate, banking and automotive
– most companies who make lasers saw only a fairly short and shallow dip in
the road. Layoffs and other cost-cutting moves certainly occurred throughout the
laser world, but most equipment makers, especially those who specialize in fiber
or diode lasers, are experiencing strong rebounds and are adding staff and expanding
What follows are snapshots of the industry through the eyes of
some of its major players:
William Shiner of IPG Photonics said that 2010 was a very good
year for the company, with an increase in business of about 76 percent over the
previous year. Much of that increase, he said, resulted from very rapid growth in
fiber laser demand. He added that the past year saw record numbers each quarter,
and that he anticipates that the upward trend will continue throughout 2011.
Part of the continuing swing comes from the fact that, after a
very down year in 2009, the auto industry is making a comeback. US automakers GM,
Ford and Chrysler are realizing increased demand for their vehicles, and production
is once again rising, if slowly. Manufacturers in Germany and Japan also are being
bolstered by customer demand for new cars, and China’s auto industry, according
to Shiner, is going through the roof, supporting demand for metalworking lasers.
JDSU Corp. of Milpitas, Calif., was “as affected as anyone
by the economic downturn, but there has been an uptick during the last several (fiscal)
quarters,” said Werner Wiechmann, the company’s director of marketing.
Gas lasers, such as the argon-ion and helium-neon devices used on production lines,
are still very important to the company, and Wiechmann expects the company’s
slice of that segment to grow even as the total pie likely will shrink.
The last two quarters have been good to Dilas as well, with the
overall laser market gaining ground for its facilities in Tucson, Ariz., and Mainz,
Germany. Stimulus funds passed around in the US and Europe helped boost sales, according
to Joerg Neukum, the company’s sales and marketing director. Recently, the
company’s hired 30 people to keep pace with its customers’ growing demands,
as well as actively managing its supply chain to suit customer demands in the recovering
The need to replenish was also cited by Christopher Madin, the
managing director and CEO of Klastech GmbH of Dortmund, Germany. The company, which
specializes in diode-pumped solid state (DPSS) lasers, saw an increase in sales
this year after an ebb in 2009. In 2011, Klastech will focus on bringing new products
to market, including a 442-nm DPSS laser meant to replace helium-cadmium units as
well as a compact 266-nm DPSS later in the year.
Qioptiq had a good year in 2010, according to managing director
Ian Alcock. The recovering semiconductor industry, which requires a multitude of
laser-based fabrication and inspection tools, provided Qioptiq with a burst of growth
“in most market sectors,” he said.
After having acquired Linos in 2007 and Point Source in 2008,
Qioptiq last year consolidated the brands under a single, uniform identity that
provides complete products and systems.
Walter Burgess, vice president of sales and engineering at Power
Technology Inc. in Little Rock, Ark., also reported that 2010 was good for his company.
He attributed the positive results to agility and the higher flexibility his company
offers compared with larger, public entities. The general economic downturn affected
Power Technology’s customers, and the effects of the recession still linger,
Burgess said, but otherwise the company is back to normal and focused on growth
in 2011 and beyond.
Eric Bergles is vice president of sales and marketing at BaySpec
Inc., an OEM manufacturer of narrow- and wideband light sources, including lasers,
for Raman spectrometers. He states his San Jose, Calif.-based company’s chief
apprehension about the new year succinctly. “Our current concern is finding
quality employees to fill a number of open positions. We do not see a recession.”
After a brief slowdown, especially due to a depressed automotive
industry, Trumpf Inc. “has rebounded nicely,” according to Tim Morris,
general manager of the company’s Laser Technology Center. A recent quick increase
in orders has caused the company to scramble somewhat, spurring increases in personnel
and manufacturing shifts at its plants in Germany and elsewhere. Through this past
July, the company had reduced the hours and wages of many of its employees but managed
not to eliminate any positions despite the slowed economy.
According to Trumpf, the global market for laser-based materials
processing equipment fell by 41 percent in 2009, to €3.8 billion ($5.0 billion).
Now, however, the company expects the segment to have grown by 25 percent to about
€5.0 billion ($6.6 billion) in 2010.
Not everything is rosy, however. Despite upticks in manufacturing,
including in the automotive industry, the current global condition remains tenuous.
Banks are holding onto money, debt problems in parts of Europe and in the US are
bringing louder cries for austere approaches to government spending, and consumer
demand for many products is being stifled by high unemployment.
“The uncertain economy is the greatest concern,” said
Mark A. Tolbert, president and CEO of Toptica Photonics Inc., the US division of
Munich, Germany-based Toptica. “Consumer comfort has a trickle-down effect.
In addition, currency rates have a dramatic effect on our business as a European
Toptica, which makes diode and ultrafast fiber lasers, has a diverse
clientele, working closely with research scientists and OEMs. The company has experienced
recent growth in industrial markets, and Tolbert said the company expects even more
expansion in that niche in the coming year.
Laser makers Time-Bandwidth Products and Trumpf also reported
strong years, though many did better in the international markets than in the US.
For example, according to Trumpf’s Tim Morris, Asian markets for lasers are
experiencing the fastest growth, especially in sales to automakers. Morris also
noted that entire business sectors that had postponed capital investments have now
leaped to purchase new equipment.