Industrial lasers find applications across numerous manufacturing entities. An increasing focus on product quality, coupled with improvement of production efficiency, is fueling the global demand for industrial lasers.
One company, RSE Incorporated, recently opted for a laser system to fabricate housings and sheet metal modules for its activated carbon air filters. For many years, the company used a turret punch press before making the switch.
As Stefan Colle noted in the monthly publication Industrial Laser Solutions, the Michigan-based company chose fiber laser technology over conventional CO2 cutting largely because the laser system processes most parts 60% faster.
Colle quotes RSE chief operating officer Charles McCormick as saying: “When lasers started to become more affordable to a company of our size, I looked at CO2 lasers, but their upkeep and maintenance and the machine itself was just too much money," McCormick says. "Even the longest running laser resonator had to be replaced or refurbished every six years, which meant factoring in another $40,000 to $60,000 and a higher cost per hour to run the laser. The numbers were just too big."
As Colle notes, to keep its market edge requires RSE to remain in-step with available technology. The strategy makes sound business sense because the industrial laser market is a technology driven industry undergoing rapid growth, says Sinha Guarav, an analyst with BCC Research.
“The market’s rapidly growing, with an increasing demand for improved production efficiency. Numerous players operating in the industrial laser market place their prime focus on research and development to provide cost-efficient solutions to end-users like RSE,” Guarav says. “The carbon dioxide and neodymium YAG lasers are major laser types currently being used, but the fiber and disk laser segments are expected to experience significant growth in the coming years.”
WHAT ARE INDUSTRIAL LASERS?
Industrial lasers find applications across numerous manufacturing entities. An increasing focus placed on product quality, coupled with improvement of production efficiency, is a major factor fueling the global demand for industrial lasers. Industrial lasers are used for cutting, marking and engraving, and additive manufacturing. Industrial laser use is a non-contact process, explains Guarav, which means no direct contact occurs with the working element, which eliminates the chances of contamination and reduces maintenance cost.
Carbon dioxide lasers, fiber lasers, Nd:YAG lasers, solid-state lasers and disk lasers are major types of industrial lasers used across industries. The carbon dioxide laser, the most widely used laser type across industries globally, is expected to remain the market leader in the near future, according to Guarav. Increasing demand for high power output is a major factor fueling the demand for carbon dioxide laser.
The laser represents a tool that provides greater energy efficiency, higher precision, extended reliability and lower cost over time. Unlike older industrial tool industries, the industrial laser industry still is evolving. Fiber, disk and direct diode lasers are currently having a significant impact on industry.
FIBER LASER CUTTING TECHNOLOGY
The fiber laser is a major laser type used across industries globally, according to Guarav. An optical fiber doped with rare-earth elements (e.g., erbium, neodymium, thullium, praseodymium, ytterbium) is the active gain medium in fiber lasers. In these lasers, light is already coupled into flexible fiber, and thus light can be easily delivered to a movable focusing element.
They also provide high-output power, thus satisfying end- user requirements, explains Guarav. “Fiber lasers are compact in size compared to rod or gas lasers of comparable power, another factor that drives their demand. Increasing demand for reliability is also expected to have a positive impact on the fiber laser market.”
He adds that fiber lasers provide high peak power and nanosecond pulses, which enable effective marking and engraving. In addition, they provide cleaner cut edges at faster cutting
RSE’s McCormick chose the fiber laser over a CO2 system due to two features offered by the fiber laser: its speed and low operating costs.
“When I finally looked at the fiber laser machine, I was astounded at how affordable it was," McCormick tells Colle. "The fiber laser is faster than the CO2 laser. And the consumption rate of electricity and assist gases is low, so it made a lot of sense to choose the fiber laser over CO2."
As Colle writes, “The fiber laser has much higher electrical efficiency than a CO2 system with 30% wall plug efficiency, so operating costs are lower. No moving parts or mirrors in the light-generating source reduces maintenance requirements and further lowers operating costs. It's estimated that the fiber laser system has 50% longer servicing intervals and 50% lower servicing costs than a CO2 system.”
RSE previously used a high-speed punch press for straight line cutting, a considerably slower process than with the fiber laser.
"I've done numerous time studies comparing the fiber laser and the turret punch press and while the punch press is fast, the fiber laser is 60% faster in most programs," McCormick tells Industrial Laser Solutions. "A program in 14-gauge stainless that used to take us 10 minutes, I'm doing in four minutes."
As a result of the faster cutting time, McCormick says RSE can “turn around a new build in three to four weeks. The fiber laser has helped a lot with that. We have the equipment to handle the capacity and can add a second or third shift if needed.”
FIBER LASER/GLOBAL INDUSTRIAL LASER MARKETS AT A GLANCE
Guarav expects the demand for industrial lasers to increase in the next five years due to a growing number of manufacturing utilities focusing on improvement production and manufacturing efficiency.
Apart from this, the cost/benefit ratio associated with the usage of laser devices also counter balances the investments being made, he says. High initial investment is expected to have a minimal impact on the demand for industrial lasers in both the short and long run.
In 2014 the North American fiber laser market was valued at $290.4 million, a figure that should reach $429.1 million by 2020, thanks to a five-year CAGR of 6.8%, Guarav anticipates.
From a global perspective, the industrial laser market is expected to total more than $6.3 billion by 2020, increasing at a five-year compound annual growth rate at a (CAGR) of 6.6%.
The application of industrial lasers in consumer electronics held the largest market share among all segments (consumer electronics, construction, aerospace and defense, oil and gas, healthcare, other) and is expected to remain the leader during the forecast period of 2015-2020. Guarav projects this segment, valued at nearly $1.4 billion in 2014, to reach $2 billion by 2020, growing at a five-year CAGR of 6.1%.