Production and export of German laser systems drops 18 per cent in 2019

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Share of total exports of laser systems in Germany. (Source: VDMA)

Both the production and export of CO2, solid-state, and diode laser systems in Germany dropped by approximately 18 per cent in 2019 compared to the previous year, according to the latest figures issued by the VDMA Working Committee ‘Lasers and Laser Systems for Material Processing’. 

Production volume shrank from €1.06 billion to €870 million, while export volume dropped from €950 to €782 million. 

Europe was the largest export market at 61 per cent, followed by China with 14 per cent, and the remaining 25 per cent consisting of Japan, the USA, and other nations.

The volume of incoming orders also suffered a loss at 19 per cent, with 2019 figures totalling €1.05 billion. Domestic orders slumped by a third, while orders from abroad dropped 16 per cent to approximately €900 million. 

The Working Committee has linked the decline to the ailing global economy, structural transformation in the automotive industry, and politically motivated upheavals.

‘Uncertainties as to the outcome of Brexit, the unabated trade disputes between China and the USA, China’s policy towards Hong Kong, and the belligerent election noises in the USA represent but a few factors affecting the many trends behind the unbroken suspense in the pre-Covid-19 global economy,’ the Committee said when releasing the 2019 data.

According to Dr Christian Schmitz, CEO of Laser Technology at Trumpf and chairman of the Working Committee, despite these uncertainties, orders have stabilised over recent months, and there are signs of recovery in certain regions. 

‘Yet the Covid-19 crisis will continue to keep us busy,’ he said. ‘We still have no clear overview of the first-wave effects, including imminent recession, default payments, the lopsided balance of some customers, etc. Not only that, but further shutdowns can dampen the economy even further.’

Collaborating to launch Industry 4.0

The Working Committee highlighted that even in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, there are still opportunities to be taken, such as those presented by Industry 4.0. 

‘As a result of the travel restrictions, digitised solutions are increasingly gaining in significance for a number of fields, including remote services, predictive maintenance, and links to manufacturing execution systems (MESs) in industry,’ said Schmitz. ‘And one key foundation is provided by the German laser industry’s work on OPC UA-based interface standards.’

The contents of the work pursued by Germany’s laser industry focuses on solutions for the launch of Industry 4.0, the success of which hinges on the open-source exchange of production data. With this objective in view, the companies are currently developing an OPC UA-based interface standard in the form of a plug and play solution for vertical communication.

As Europe’s largest industrial association, the VDMA has adopted a leading role in the elaboration of so-called OPC UA companion specifications, with the Laser Working Committee becoming active in this work towards the end of 2019. Co-authored by the University of Stuttgart, a white paper was released that provided the key accounts of laser sources and systems with the progress of developments in the companion specifications.

When asked to describe the objective being targeted by his working group, Dr Alexander Arndt, manager of digitalisation and process design at Laserline, said: ‘Industry 4.0 is based essentially on the communication capabilities of differing process and production stations. Used all over the world, the communication standard OPC UA offers an all-encompassing potential for the cross-platform exchange of data between the most diverse machines, equipment, and control systems. The need for Industry 4.0-compatible communication, via OPC UA, is also being felt by the laser industry, which is why the members are now working towards expanding the existing OPC UA companion specifications for their application to laser systems as well.’ 

Schmitz of Trumf added: ‘At the same time, OPC UA fulfils customer requirements for a modern communication architecture and IT security aspects. This will be the key to the IT-compliant integration of laser systems in customers’ production networks, providing the foundation for enhanced Industry 4.0 potential with respect to productivity, availability, and quality assurance.’

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