What’s happening in the laser industry in 2020?
There’s a lot going on in the world of lasers in terms of technology and prices, as well as markets and materials. Here we will take a closer look at some of the trends and phenomena that are worth keeping an eye on going forwards.
Smaller but more powerful laser sources from a growing number of manufacturers
The laser sources have an increasingly better beam quality while they are also becoming smaller. Today, a lot of power can be achieved even from very small laser sources.
US laser giant IPG Photonics has seen declining sales in China, while many other players have withdrawn from the Chinese market completely. The primary reason for this is the growing number of domestic laser manufacturers, which is helping to lower prices. Although the degree of industrialisation and certification of these laser sources remains a problem, the trend of an increasing number of Chinese brands is clear.
US tariffs on Chinese goods have made it difficult for well-established US laser manufacturers to sell their products in China. However, their sales, alongside those of several smaller manufacturers, are better at home. It still remains to be seen how well these smaller US manufacturers will fare once the tariffs are removed.
Laser welding is becoming increasingly important for e-mobility
E-mobility simply means the electric propulsion of vehicles. Laser welding is becoming an increasingly important process in the manufacture of components such as batteries and, not least, hairpins (the stator in electric motors). Copper with copper, copper with aluminium, aluminium with aluminium, and nickel with plated materials are examples of the combinations of materials that are welded together.
E-mobility places new demands on laser welding equipment as the components must be welded incredibly precisely. Another challenge comes in not overheating the battery so that it catches fire. If any of the welds are not good, you will not be able to make contact with all the cells, which can cause a car to stop.
Although the welding of conventional powertrain components such as axles and gears is as common today as before, at the major laser trade shows it is increasingly the welding of e-mobility components that is put in the spotlight. New materials and material combinations demonstrate the potential of laser welding, and it is imagination rather than technology that sets the boundaries.
Increasing performance and popularity of connected laser processes
Lasers are certainly a very stable and consistent process, but by connecting them, it is possible to anticipate issues and avoid welding errors in production.
Permanova’s sensors pick up data that makes the process predictable, which means that you can see the quality of incoming material. When it comes to welding the roofs of cars, in some cases it is possible to see what the geometry of the car looks like. Volkswagen uses this technology to ensure the geometry of the entire car.
The ability to make products that are of a higher quality is a key contributing factor when companies choose to invest in laser processes with connected sensor systems, which is part of Industry 4.0. The falling price of laser sources, increased expertise in the potential of lasers, and better sensor systems are other reasons why these solutions are increasing in popularity.
The German automotive industry has agreed a standard for how this data should be presented: OPC UA. This is a protocol that works regardless of the platform and operating system used.
Where is it profitable to invest in laser technology?
Wages in China have been rising for some time, but recently they have started to really accelerate. Newly graduated engineers in Shanghai now demand salaries equivalent to around SEK 45,000 per month. Although Shanghai isn’t entirely representative of the country as a whole and we should probably take these rumours with a pinch of salt, we can see that wage levels are approaching those of Sweden. The trend is that it is becoming less and less affordable for foreign companies to manufacture and process products in China using lasers.
Eastern European countries such as Poland and Ukraine are expected to become more interesting countries for manufacturing going forwards given their low costs and proximity to Sweden. But, above all, the right decision is to invest in laser technology here in Sweden. Laser stations do not require much operator time.
The costs of investing in laser welding are falling and approaching TIG/MIG/MAG levels. Production costs remain low, and the total cost of ownership of lasers is often better than for more traditional welding methods.
New materials, technical solutions, and areas of application are creating many new opportunities for companies that work with lasers. Although they create challenges as well, the potential for what lasers can achieve will continue to grow in 2020 and beyond. On Permanova’s inspiration pages, you can read more about how we and our customers work with lasers, the benefits of the different laser methods, and much more. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.