Despite economic uncertainty, LFW Marketplace Seminar predicts steady growth

Jan. 22, 2008
San Jose, CA--With economic indicators pointing towards recession, Editor in Chief Steve Anderson reported that the global laser market (diode and non-diode lasers) grew approximately 9% in 2007 to reach $6.9 billion, and is expected to grow 7% in 2008.

San Jose, CA--With economic indicators pointing towards recession, Laser Focus World (LFW; Nashua, NH) Editor in Chief Steve Anderson reported that the global laser market (diode and non-diode lasers) grew approximately 9% in 2007 to reach $6.9 billion dollars, and is expected to grow 7% in 2008. His was the first presentation among many at yesterday's LFW Laser & Photonics Marketplace Seminar, held in conjunction with SPIE's Photonics West Conference.

Among the non-diode laser categories, CO2 lasers dominate for materials processing applications. But the diode laser market ($3.8 billion in 2007) is closely tied to consumer applications such as PlayStation 3, DVD players, and displays. Bob Steele from Strategies Unlimited (Mountain View, CA) explained how, for the first time since 2001, diode lasers for telecommunications exceeded those for the optical storage market--largely due to an increasing need for pump diodes for fiber lasers and for a strong fiber-to-the-node/premise/curb (FTTx) market.

Each year at the Marketplace Seminar, Editor in Chief of Industrial Laser Solutions (ILS; Nashua, NH) David Belforte forecasts the industrial laser market. He cautioned that despite 37 years of continuous growth in this market, 1991 and 1992 saw a downturn due to a global recession. Nonetheless, Belforte forecasts 2008 industrial laser sales to grow 6% with China leading all market sectors with a 40% annual growth rate, increased activity in the NAFTA sector, and the fact that a weak dollar will favor laser exports from the United States. Belforte also noted that 1-2 kW fiber lasers are becoming formidable competition to 7 kW CO2 lasers for materials and semiconductor processing.

The latter part of the Seminar focused on specific applications that are driving steady growth in the laser markets. Greg Smolka described the dynamic optical coherence tomography (OCT) market, with some 19 companies marketing OCT systems since the launch of the first Zeiss systems back in 1996. 2007 OCT revenue sits at nearly $200 million dollars, with a 34.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR). But even this staggering figure cannot compete with the estimated 48% CAGR since 2002 for lasers used in solar photovoltaics processing, according the David Clark from Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). While the total available market for green and Q-switched infrared lasers in this market is estimated at $70 million, the CAGR is an indication of the future growth potential in this sector, not to mention the immediacy and necessity of photovoltaics as a way to stop the burning of fossil fuels. Several presentations also covered applications for ultrafast lasers as part of the Ultrafast Technology Forum within the Seminar.

John Harmon of Needham and Company presented "Investing in lasers – it's not science fiction," offering an analysis of how lasers provide an "above-GDP-level-growth" opportunity, reminding the audience that lasers are currently used in only 15% of the applications to which they could eventually be applied. And offering his wisdom about how to succeed in the laser market, Peter Leibinger from Trumpf delivered the keynote address, saying that it's not necessary to be first to market with a new laser product, but only to be the first to offer a "package" that is tailored to meet the targeted application. Trumpf certainly was not the first to invent the laser, but they were the first to package it to withstand the harsh environment of materials processing applications. Leibinger sees a positive future for the laser industry, calling the laser a "formerly exotic tool" that should continue to experience positive market growth for its manufacturers, and hopefully weather the impending economic storm.

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About the Author

Gail Overton | Senior Editor (2004-2020)

Gail has more than 30 years of engineering, marketing, product management, and editorial experience in the photonics and optical communications industry. Before joining the staff at Laser Focus World in 2004, she held many product management and product marketing roles in the fiber-optics industry, most notably at Hughes (El Segundo, CA), GTE Labs (Waltham, MA), Corning (Corning, NY), Photon Kinetics (Beaverton, OR), and Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). During her marketing career, Gail published articles in WDM Solutions and Sensors magazine and traveled internationally to conduct product and sales training. Gail received her BS degree in physics, with an emphasis in optics, from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA in May 1986.

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