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Breaking down the "micro" laser market

By Tom Hausken
We just published our special market report on the so-called micro materials processing market . Once the market bounces off the bottom, the growth in the recovery will be good, but the interesting part of the story will be in changes in market share as the technology marches forward.

I should first explain what the micro materials processing market is. These are lasers used for lower power welding, cutting, drilling, microfabrication, additive processes, heat treatment, and lithography. We don't count kilowatt lasers at all, nor do we count marking and decorative engraving. The lasers are used to make semiconductors, solar cells, medical devices, jewelry, electronics, consumer products, and a wide range of various industrial parts.

The market will take a 40% hit this year, which is dreadful, but this is not big news any more, and the recovery will bring the market to $460 million by 2013. There is talk that the semiconductor tool business is already turning around, after falling since 2007. Other markets, like solar cells, has a ways to go yet, and automotive may be slower to come back.

We found the market share leaders to be Coherent, Rofin-Sinar, and GSI Group, with over 50% of the market. It's not hard to see why. Coherent is strong in CO2 lasers, excimer lasers, and DPSSLs. Rofin is strong in multiple categories too (don't forget that Rofin includes other brands: Lee Laser, etc.) And we counted all of Excel Technology's laser production in GSI's 2008 share, so that includes significant lamp-pumped solid-state lasers and CO2 lasers. There are a lot of players and product segments, so any company that is strong in multiple segments will have greater share. (Of course, many companies are also diversified across other laser applications apart from the micro category, but that isn't counted here.)

By the way, lamp-pumped lasers may be on the decline, but the sales still amount to something, especially considering that they often involve higher powers, and therefore higher prices. By comparison, a lot of CO2 marking lasers sell for under $2,000, so it takes a lot of them to amount to much.

The thing that is striking is that the technology, as mature as it is, isn't staying still, especially in the micro category. Innovations like pulse shaping fiber lasers, higher power green lasers, and picosecond lasers, to name a few, promise to upset the market share at least a little while the market comes back.

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