Price pressure is driving a lot of laser system development, according to members of the executive panel discussion at Lasys, the laser material processing trade fair taking place in Stuttgart, Germany from 31 May to 2 June.
Dr Klaus Kleine, director of product line management at Coherent, said that there is ‘big pressure on pricing’ of laser systems. He believes that in order to keep production costs down, laser suppliers like Coherent will aim for more vertical integration, whereby companies are not just responsible for manufacturing the laser, but also all the other component parts of the system.
Kleine added that complicated pieces of equipment like remote welding heads are now more expensive than the laser source, which, he said, is causing system makers like Trumpf and IPG to consider building their own processing heads.
Coherent acquired Rofin in March of this year, forming one of the largest laser companies in the industrial sector. Kleine said the deal was still going through regulatory requirements, so was unable to comment further about it.
Markus Rütering, sales manager for Asia and Germany at Laserline, added that he believes there will be more consolidation in the industrial laser market in the future, as companies try to compete in the marketplace, although he said that Laserline wasn’t considering a merger at this time.
Lars Penning, managing director of Next Scan Technology, which is now part of Scanlab, noted that the acquisition by Scanlab was a good step, as it’s difficult for small companies to compete with the larger, more established firms.
Price competition in Asia
In China, there is fierce price competition for laser machinery, Penning commented. Rütering added that the volume of imported laser systems into Asia remains stable, but that the use of laser technology has tripled, suggesting there is now significant competition from Chinese, Korean and Japanese laser manufacturers.
On the first day of the trade fair, Thorsten Frauenpreiß, vice president of Macro RSTI and managing director of Rofin-Sinar Laser, said that low-cost, low-power laser cutting machines made by Chinese companies are putting the more established laser brands under price pressure. There is a market for low-cost machines in the range of 1-2kW that only exists in China, he said.
Ultrashort pulsed lasers and direct diode lasers were both technologies that were noted as having matured to the point where they are used in industry. Kleine said that there are now ultrafast systems for laser marking, an area that USP lasers would not have been considered for two years ago, suggesting the cost of the systems are coming down. Trumpf released a picosecond laser, the TruMicro 2000, at the show, which is marketed for laser marking applications.
In terms of direct diode lasers of the sort that Laserline supply, the systems are now able to run at 50 per cent wall plug efficiency with a 5mm mrad beam quality. Rütering commented that direct diode systems are already competing with fibre lasers, although not in the field of cutting, while Kleine added that direct diode lasers need more development to become more stable and less complex.
Laserline provided the laser source technology to Audi for the development of a remote laser welding process that cuts costs by 90 per cent compared to traditional methods.
On the future of the industry, Kleine commented that laser makers need to find new applications for their technology. Rütering added that not every laser is suitable for every job, and that each laser type needs to find its application niche and offer products at the right price.
Dave MacLellan, executive director of the Association of Industrial Laser Users (AILU), commented that there needs to be more exposure to the benefits of laser technology for the industry to grow. He said ‘education is key to raise awareness of lasers’ for the next generation of engineers.
The VDMA had invited school students to Lasys for them to learn about what the technology can do.