2011 is a record year for laser sales

By Tom Hausken
Here's some good news as we weather the winter storms: 2011 was a record year for the laser industry, finishing over $7 billion for the first time ever. That's coming off the deep recession in 2009 and a remarkable recovery in 2010. The previous record was in 2007, just before the recession. This is just out in our new market report on the worldwide laser market .

Who would have thought? I fully admit, it surprised me, as it did my colleague David Belforte of Industrial Laser Solutions magazine. I expected the recovery to track the recovery in employment. After all, lasers go largely into capital equipment, often to make even bigger capital equipment. When you are short of cash, you cut back on capital spending and payroll, at the least.

In fact, companies did buy capital equipment. There are the usual reasons, but particularly improving productivity and competitiveness. For example, the auto industry, which was so badly hit by the recession, spent heavily on retooling. Another big factor was China, which has been spending heavily on equipment. Growth in sales of smartphones and tablet computers helped. And some segments just keep rolling along, like biomedical instruments, military, and R&D lasers.

As a result, companies improved productivity, earnings are up, and even dividends have been good. What they didn't do as much was to hire workers back. Everyone is working harder. But even so, manufacturing has improved more than, say, service industries.

I'm expecting that 2012 will be flat with 2011. The global economy is cooling. The laser industry is soft too, but the fundamentals are good. I'm expecting that things will turn around in a quarter or two, and 2012 will end up being a wash.

Longer term, the industry is on track to exceed $9 billion by 2015, and that's only around 7% compounded annual growth from this year. But it's remarkable enough for a market of its type. And anyway, it's still a record!

By the way, the numbers are reviewed in the January issues of Laser Focus World and Industrial Laser Solutions , and in more detail in the Laser Focus Marketplace Seminar at Photonics West. But the gritty detail (units, prices, revenues by type and segment)--more than you could ever want--is in the market report.
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