Fiber laser forum echoes market competition

Outside of the Photonics West exhibit hall, a host of market- and business-oriented sessions covered everything from nanotechnology to low-cost manufacturing, commoditization, and, of course, China.

Feb 15th, 2006

SAN JOSE, CA - Outside of the Photonics West exhibit hall, a host of market- and business-oriented sessions covered everything from nanotechnology to low-cost manufacturing, commoditization, and, of course, China. At the Fiber Laser Markets Forum, sponsored by Laser Focus World and Strategies Unlimited (Mountain View, CA), where representatives from Aculight (Bothell, WA), Nufern (East Granby, CT), SPI Lasers (Southampton, England), IPG Photonics (Oxford, MA), and NP Photonics (Tucson, AZ) noted that the success of fiber lasers is owed to the manufacturing infrastructure and technology advances enabled by the telecommunications boom period. Andy Held of Nufern emphasized that fiber lasers can be manufactured using the same assembly-line processes used for telecom components, while Bill Shiner of IPG noted that while half of the 18,000 units IPG shipped last year were fiber lasers, the other half were amplifiers for telecommunications applications. And Pat Edsell of NP Photonics said that customers should have no qualms about the reliability of fiber lasers, especially considering that the laser diodes used for pumping the fibers were highly reliable, again thanks to the proliferation of diodes in established telecom markets.

In fact, the heart of many of the presentations, as well as another area of contention in the Panel Discussion, was the laser diode itself. Held showed graphically that as power level increases the cost of the laser diode dominates the bill of material for fiber lasers, implying that diode costs must be controlled if high-power fiber lasers are to overtake their solid-state and CO2 counterparts in all high-power applications. But unlike Shiner, who strongly emphasized the role of diode reliability and need for cost-reduction as key drivers for IPG’s in-house diode fabrication capability, Stuart Woods at SPI was adamant that a good relationship with their diode supplier was an adequate substitute for owning a diode fab.

The highly competitive atmosphere surrounding the commercial introduction of fiber lasers was quite evident during the concluding panel discussion Q&A, when someone in the audience asked who is going to stop vertically-integrated IPG Photonics from effectively capturing the entire fiber laser market. Despite the typical answers that an industry is not built on one supplier, that second sources are always needed, and that manufacturers usually target only one portion of the power range within the fiber laser market, the dominant message of the Fiber Laser Forum was that the current $123 million fiber-laser market has the potential to grow to a $2.3 billion market and beyond-big enough for everyone to get a hefty slice of the pie.

- Gail Overton

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