Currently I am working on a report on ultrafast lasers. Many of these types of lasers have existed for many years, and they can do incredible things, but the total market remains relatively small when compared to some other laser segments. The ultrafast laser market is like all laser markets where specialized tools are matched to applications requiring them. Ultrafast lasers are long-lasting tools but they are also very expensive tools, which can limit their economic advantage in many applications. For industrial applications, ultrafast lasers are almost always the technically best solution for the job, but where they can fall short is being the economically best solution for the job.
If a manufacturing process requires "pretty good" quality, instead of excellent quality, often times an ultrafast laser is not the best choice. If production volumes aren't relatively high, often times a non-ultrafast laser solution is best. And if production doesn't last for a fairly long time, sometimes manufacturers are better sending their parts off to a job shop rather than purchasing an ultrafast laser in-house. If you want to drill a "pretty good" 150 micron hole, an inexpensive CO2 laser does a pretty good job of this.
With a limited number of applications, and so many ultrafast laser manufacturers out there, how do they all survive, and the numbers of these companies has really grown in the last three or four years? Certainly not all of them will survive, but what benefits them is the wide variety of products that exist, and for any one application, the number of lasers that can do the job is relatively small. Maybe an extremely short duration pulse is needed, maybe a high repetition rate, maybe a high average power, or a high maximum power. Then there is wavelength which can run from deep UV to mid-IR. And wait, we haven't even mentioned maybe the most important characteristic, the price.
Large companies like Trumpf and Coherent have captured the majority of the market share of the largest applications, such as sapphire processing, and fuel injector nozzle drilling, which leaves the other companies fighting for the scraps. Some of these companies are better at working with these markets than others. The good news for everyone is that the abundance of ultrafast laser companies and improving technology have led to a pretty rapid decrease in the price of ultrafast lasers. Today you can purchase a 5 watt picosecond laser for south of $90K. That same laser less than 10 years ago was north of $500K.
Dropping prices combined with the small electronics revolution that we all live with (think smartphones, tablets, and miniature medical devices) has greatly expanded the use of ultrafast lasers. In the years ahead, the market should only get better.