Solid-state lasers will be fitted in 60 to 70 per cent of 2D machine cutting tools in Europe this year, Dr Christian Schmitz, the managing director of development and production at Trumpf Lasertechnik, has said on the first day of the laser material processing trade fair Lasys in Stuttgart, Germany, which runs from 31 May to 2 June.
This figure could be as high as 90 per cent in Asia, he added, a clear indication of the rise of fibre and disk laser technology, growth that has been mainly at the expense of CO2 lasers.
The proportion of solid-state laser systems sold in Germany grew from 54 per cent in 2014 to 64 per cent in 2015, according to market data from the VDMA. The volume of laser systems produced in Germany reached €962 million in 2015, growth of 12 per cent compared to 2014, while incoming orders grew by 8 per cent on the previous year to €1.14 billion.
Schmitz commented that CO2 lasers will retain ‘niche’ markets where high quality cutting is needed, but ‘niche’ is a world of difference away from the ‘workhorse’ of the industry, which is how CO2 lasers were described not so long ago.
Schmitz noted a trend for higher power cutting sources in Europe to greater than 3kW, while, in Asia, there is a strong demand for mid-power, solid-state lasers – around three quarters of the laser sources exported to Asia had output powers of 2-4kW.
Thorsten Frauenpreiß, vice president of Macro RSTI and managing director of Rofin-Sinar Laser, added that there is an entire market for low cost cutting machines in the power range of 1-2kW that only exists in China. These systems are produced by Chinese companies that wouldn’t have a market in Europe, and which are putting the more established brands under price pressure.
At the same time, he said, the low prices for laser cutting machines are promoting the use of lasers in punching operations. Around 5,000 cutting machines are sold a year, with most being fibre lasers.
Frauenpreiß added that the move from CO2 to fibre lasers can be observed in all Asian regions, including Japan. However, he said that Japan is more conservative and that the Japanese laser cutting market is dominated by CO2 systems at the moment because this market demands high quality cutting.
Consumer goods – including the demand for ultrashort pulsed lasers for cutting glass – medical engineering, semiconductor, photovoltaics and battery applications were all noted as being particularly strong in Asia. Cutting textiles is also an important market – Nike in Korea is employing CO2 lasers to cut the soles of trainers, with a single range of trainers using a three-digit number of CO2 systems.
Dr Christoph Ullmann, managing director of Laserline, commented that diode lasers continue to grow, both as a standalone tool and as a pump source for fibre lasers. He said that many manufacturers now offer compact and attractively priced diode laser modules of less than 300W with a high beam quality of 4-8mm mrad.
Ullmann remarked that there are some applications where direct diode lasers are a better fit than fibre lasers, but stopped short of characterising the technology as a serious competitor to fibre lasers at the moment, still referring to direct diode systems as ‘more of a niche product’.
Fifty per cent energy efficiency has now been achieved with diode lasers, and low-cost systems are making headway in soldering applications, while 50kW systems have also been produced with the beam focused over a large area.
Brazing and surface treatment are areas where direct diode lasers are gaining traction - Philips Photonics was exhibiting its VCSEL arrays at Lasys, which are designed for digital thermal processing and which won an innovation award at the laser technology congress AKL’16 earlier in the year.
Other areas of growth that Schmitz at Trumpf noted include micromachining with ultrashort pulsed lasers – Trumpf is displaying its new picosecond laser, the TruMicro 2000 – and additive manufacturing.
Klaus Löffler, managing director of sales and services at Trumpf, also commented on the need for smarter laser machines that can connect with other equipment in a factory environment, part of the drive for Industry 4.0. Trumpf has founded an IT company called Axoom, which provides a connectivity platform for manufacturing environments, and its lasers have actuators and sensors to react during processing.
Ophir Photonics was displaying its BeamWatch Integrated and Helios laser beam measurement products, now with Profinet connectivity exactly to cater for Industry 4.0. BeamWatch Integrated is able to make a measurement every 20ms meaning the system is fast enough to check laser beam parameters between processing each part.
Christian Dini, general manager at Ophir, told Laser Systems Europe that by integrating the technology into factory environments via Profinet, manufacturers will be able to document laser beam parameters for each component produced, all part of monitoring production processes as factories get smarter and generate more data.
Fume extraction company, Bofa, was also exhibiting products for Industry 4.0, including its new IQ2 operating system for its fume extractors, which gives filter status monitoring to lower the cost of ownership.
Lasys has a total of 181 exhibitors from 15 countries, with 5,500 visitors expected to attend the show.