It is estimated that there are more than 35,000 laser powered flat sheet cutters, installed worldwide since 1990, still in operation today. In the next ten years another 50,000 units will likely be added to that number as new markets, such as China, catch up to the rest of the industrialized markets in fabricated metal products.
About 25 percent of this installed base is located in North America, of which 75 percent are the products of six major suppliers, dominated by two companies that hold 40 percent of the domestic market.
At Fabtech this month 10 exhibitors that manufacture laser metal cutting systems—of which nine feature flat sheet cutters, with five of these among the top six mentioned above—will be showing the latest in high-speed, precise, automated laser cutters. Twenty-seven years ago, also in Chicago, the very first flat sheet cutter, a combination laser/turret punching system, was shown by Strippit, still an exhibitor this year.
For a variety of reasons, the U.S. fabricated metal products industry was slow to accept laser cutting of sheet metal. Europe, where the process was introduced in the U.K. and Germany in 1970/71, had several hundred units in place by 1980 and Japan had 900 units in place by 1985. It is easy to see how the European and Asian markets represent 75 percent of the current installed base given the running start they enjoyed.
It would be nice to report that the North American fabricated metal products industry, in a catch-up mode, has outperformed the rest of the world markets over the past five years. But not so, thanks to a three-year recession in the capital equipment business, after a spectacular year in 2000 when around 1000 units were installed. All of which means North America remains a fertile market for laser metal cutters, with excellent prospects for solid double-digit growth in the next few years.
You may well ask why ILS has something of an obsession about the sheet metal cutting business. The answer is in the numbers. Last year more than $1.5 billion worth of laser metal cutters were sold, representing about 40 percent of the total sales of industrial laser systems. This number would be higher were it not for two factors: the low dollar value of units produced domestically in China, a fast growing market sector, and the decreased $/watt of higher power CO2 laser systems that are offsetting the potential increased selling price of today’s more automated systems.
So Fabtech is, as the name implies, the natural home for laser system exhibitors. And new this year is the addition of the AWS Welding Show, which expands the fabricating concept to include metal joining. If you’ve attended previous Fabtechs you’ll be impressed by this year’s show. About 25 percent of the South Hall at Chicago’s McCormick Place is assigned to the welding related exhibits and 25 percent to the tube & pipe companies. Scattered throughout these areas you will find numerous laser product exhibitors, identified by a common logo. This logo, which appears to the left, will also be found in the fabricating area, which makes up the remaining 50 percent of the hall’s space.
Before the show you can check out the Fabtech laser product exhibitors on the ILS Web home page, www.industrial-lasers.com, through a link using the identifying logo as a button.
A compelling reason for show visitors to make themselves known to the laser product exhibitors is that members of this group are using attendee response at this year’s Fabtech to assess this show as a possible venue for a proposed annual North American industrial laser show.