It’s time to again analyze what’s going on in the Indian industrial laser market and what is coming in the future. According to government import data, the laser market (except for laser diodes) has gone up from slightly more than 13 thousand units in 2017-2018 to almost 18 thousand units in 2018, which is reflected in the number of machines sold last year.However, an interesting fact is that overall business volume, revenue-wise, has reduced from 2017-2018 to 2018-2019. This clearly shows that in spite of increases in the number of lasers sold, the overall business volume has reduced, which suggests the selling price of lasers has dropped significantly—up to 25–30%. For laser machines or systems (it’s difficult to segregate specific laser-based systems), data indicates a growth of 25–30%.
The laser market is driven by industries such as automotive, heavy industry, infrastructure, electronics, consumer durables, railways, and others. The automotive sector is growing at a pace of approximately 10% CAGR and the Indian automotive industry (including component manufacturing) is expected to reach Rs 16.16–18.18 trillion ($251.4–282.8 billion) by 2026. Thus, the automotive industry is the main driving force for the laser industry.
Note that the government is putting in place a policy for electric vehicles (EVs), Bharat Stage VI (BSVI) norms, and safety regulation. It will take some time for the automotive sector to get ready for these changes and we will see some temporary slowdown in this sector, but it will certainly pick up after a quarter. Automotive manufacturers have started to prepare for these changes, especially with EVs. Maruti, the leading automotive car manufacturer, is already building a battery plant in Sanand Gujarat and other companies will also be getting into EVs.
Automotive sector laser applications include cutting, welding, marking, hardening, cladding, and texturing, thereby covering all major automotive applications for lasers. Let’s have a look at how the market for various laser applications did in 2018 and what’s in store for the future.
Fiber laser cutting growth
The 2D fiber laser cutting machine market is currently the fastest-growing laser market in India. The overall number of cutting machines sold in 2018 was in the range of 800–1000 units, which is double the number sold in the previous year. It is mostly dominated by Chinese machine manufacturers such as HSG Laser, Bodor Laser, Han’s Laser, and many others through their distributors/resellers that include Laser Technologies Mumbai, Laser Lab Delhi, and another 25–30 distributors selling Chinese cutting machines, apart from Han’s Laser and Golden Laser, which have their own offices in India.
Most of these machines use fiber lasers from either IPG Photonics or Chinese fiber lasers from Raycus or Max Photonics as the source. International cutting machine suppliers TRUMPF, Amada, and Bystronic have reduced their selling prices—however, they are mainly focusing on high power. An interesting point to note is that a significant percentage (25–30%) of the market has been captured by Indian machine integrators with Suresh Indu Laser (Pune) taking the lead with the largest share, followed by Mehta CAD CAM (Ahmedabad), Sahajanand Laser Technology (Ahmedabad), Messer, Protec, and many others.
This market is anticipated to grow further in 2019 to 50% more than what it was previously. I believe that Indian integrators’ share in the overall laser cutting market will continue to grow year after year.
Status of other laser processing technologies
Going to 3D cutting, the scenario is opposite, as it is mainly dominated by European suppliers led by TRUMPF (Germany), Prima Power Industries (Italy), and others, with an overall market size in the range of 20 machines. Chinese manufacturers are not that strong in this segment and it looks they will take some time to catch up. Therefore, in the coming year this market will grow, but the European dominance will still be there—however, we can see Chinese machine manufacturers breaking into this market, making it more competitive.
Another market that is anticipated to grow this year is tube cutting. This segment has started to pick up due to cost-effective Chinese tube cutting solutions. This was seen at the Blech India exhibition, held in April 2019 in Mumbai, where Han’s Laser, HG Laser, and others demonstrated their tube cutting machines.
Laser marking, which was once a lucrative market for integrators and machine builders, is now an off-the-shelf product, as prices for complete 20 W marking machines have gone down to <$2000 and there are more than 100 resellers that are offering machines. The marking sector is still growing and will continue to grow further. 3D marking and blue laser marking are driving the market upward, but selling price is a key factor for the majority of customers. Quality-specific applications cause customers to prefer non-Chinese machines, but this volume is far less than what it used to be.
Another new application is laser cleaning, which is being promoted heavily by Chinese as well as local integrators. It will grow once people understand the value and advantage of laser cleaning over conventional processes in their applications. Price is the key factor in high-energy laser cleaning applications—low-power lasers are used for solutions such as mold cleaning and I believe that once the price barrier is broken, this market sector will flourish like the marking machine market.
Laser cladding and hardening sales are stable at 4–5 units a year and is largely dominated by Laserline, TRUMPF, and IPG Photonics. However, with reductions in fiber laser prices, this market also will grow.
The laser welding market, which has been limited in the number of systems sold, has seen a jump in the number of pulsed yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) lasers up to 50 (excluding jewelry). More than 50% of such YAG machines are from Chinese machine manufacturers, while the remainder are from U.S. and European suppliers such as Alpha Laser and TRUMPF (Germany), Coherent (U.S.), and Amada (Japan).
High-power laser welding systems experienced growth in industry as well as in R&D labs. Their number has doubled every year in both sectors, mainly due to the government pushing for new technology that is desired by industry. This market is set to grow more than double in the coming year and will continue to grow further. The leading players for high-power welding still are European companies such as TRUMPF, IPG Photonics, Laserline, Coherent, Amada, and other integrators. However, Indian integrators such as Suresh Indu Laser (Pune), Scantech Laser (Mumbai), Sahajanand Laser Technology (Ahmedabad), Meera Laser Solutions (Chennai), and others are providing laser welding solutions using lasers from IPG Photonics, TRUMPF, Coherent, and others.
The above markets are based on fiber lasers and IPG Photonics is the leading supplier of fiber lasers in India, with offices in Bangalore, Ahmadabad, and Delhi, while other suppliers include Coherent, SPI Lasers, nLIGHT, and others. Chinese laser companies Max Photonics and Raycus are rapidly trying to catch up by dropping their selling price every year and enhancing service support by having their offices in India. Now in China, there are more than a dozen companies making high-power fiber lasers that are keen to explore the Indian market and thus are aggressively pricing the fiber laser selling price. One needs to see how long companies go on reducing the fiber laser prices—I feel that in a year or so, prices should stabilize as consolidation occurs.
The application making the most buzz globally is additive manufacturing in metals and nonmetals. This technology has just started to grow in India and is moving into the next phase of growth. Of the two technologies, powder-bed fusion (PBF) and laser metal deposition (LMD), PBF is leading the race in 3D printing, with EOS (Germany) having the largest installation base. Suppliers such as 3D Systems, SLM Solutions, Renishaw, TRUMPF, SISMA, and others are trying to catch up with EOS. The markets for additive manufacturing are mainly dental, aerospace, and job shops that offer complete additive/3D printing services, such as Intech DMLS, Wipro3D, and Imaginarium, which will certainly grow with more new applications being explored in automotive and other sectors.
The market for LMD is still in its initial years and is not used much in industrial applications in India. A few of these systems are mainly in R&D labs. Recently, the Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore) placed an order for a FormAlloy (U.S.) system for LMD. The technique has an advantage of faster speed and allows for new material/alloy development. It looks like both technologies, PBF and LMD, will be growing as the Indian government is giving a push to defense and aerospace manufacturing.
The other markets for lasers, such as medical, jewelry, entertainment, packaging, sensors, and biomedical, are growing rapidly and need to be analyzed separately. The diamond industry, which was once the largest laser user, has been going through hard times the last couple of years, especially with the introduction of artificial diamond—and still is not in the best of shape.
So far, I have focused on metals—however, carbon-dioxide (CO2) lasers offer cost-effective solutions for nonmetal processing. The CO2 laser market is growing steadily for all nonmetal applications in cutting paper and leather, among other nonmetal materials. Chinese suppliers dominate the market with continuous flow-type lasers and Indian integrators such as Suesh Indu Laser are providing local integrated solutions and giving Chinese manufacturers a run for their money. I anticipate companies offering sealed metal tube lasers from manufacturers in Europe and the U.S. will have a difficult time in the coming year, as Chinese sealed metal tube suppliers are offering lower prices. However, 24/7 performance over the years of the Chinese laser is still to be tested. For harsh environment applications, European/UK/ U.S. suppliers such as Rofin UK, Synrad, Coherent, and Universal Laser Systems have an edge.
Metal/ceramic tubes sold by Synrad, Coherent, and Universal Laser Systems are used in machines from Europe and Asia. Domestic integrators such as Suresh Indu, Mehta CAD CAM, Aditi Laser, and others are providing cost-effective machines along with automation. This market is growing steadily and will continue to grow as the overall manufacturing sector is set to expand.
The future of the laser industry looks bright as the Indian government’s ‘Make in India’ program is working to place India on the world map as a manufacturing hub. With this, India is expected to become the fifth largest manufacturing country in the world by 2020.
The government is promoting India as an attractive hub for the manufacturing sector and several mobile phone, luxury goods, and automobile brands have set up, or are looking to set up, their manufacturing bases in this country. Samsung already has the largest plant in India, while other leading mobile device makers are also considering the same move—including Apple.
The government has a plan to boost defense/aerospace manufacturing and is setting up two defense corridors—one in the North and the other in the South, where the focus will be on defense/aircraft manufacturing and maintenance. Companies such as Reliance, TATA Advance Systems, L&T, Mahindra Defense, Adani, the Kalyani Group, and other big players have ventured into this sector and in a few years, they will consider laser technology for their maintenance, repair, and overhaul (known as MRO) and manufacturing.
The government has set a growth target for the manufacturing sector from 16% of GDP to reach 25% of GDP by 2025, and the thrust areas for them are advanced manufacturing technologies such as nanomaterials and surfaces, robotics/automation, precision manufacturing, manufacturing processes in pharmaceuticals and biomanufacturing, and advanced forming and near-net-shaped processing. This is certainly going to open new markets for lasers apart from the standard laser applications discussed earlier.
Thus, the future of photonics/lasers looks bright for the existing applications and also new applications—it will be interesting see how these markets shape up a year from now. It will also be interesting to see what new Chinese manufacturers have to offer and how they will sustain their growth in the Indian market apart from reducing prices. Similarly, European manufacturers will adapt to make themselves relevant to a changing Indian market. Indian integrators will grow in numbers, gaining market share, but they need to focus on technical trained manpower and service support, as these become key for success in the longer run. Let’s wait and watch how the Indian laser market shapes up.
The author is grateful for input from Rakesh Agrawal, director of Laser Technologies Mumbai, on this article.