After a difficult 2019, the photonics industry survived the pandemic year 2020 relatively well according to a recent survey by the industry association SPECTARIS.
When the VDMA working group Laser and Laser Systems for Material Processing presented its report on the 2019 fiscal year last autumn, its findings left little room for optimism. In the twelve months before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, production and new orders among German manufacturers of laser systems had fallen by a fifth. The production volumes dropped from EUR 1.06 billion to EUR 870 million. Orders declined by 19 percent to EUR 1.05 billion. The working group in the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association VDMA attributed this to global trade disputes, Brexit, and the more rapid structural transformation in the automotive industry.
The laser system producers see a glimmer of hope in the increasing demand for networked processes, which is rising as a result of the pandemic. “Due to the travel restrictions, solutions for remote services and predictive maintenance and for connecting manufacturing execution systems (MES) are becoming more significant,” explains Christian Schmitz, Group Managing Director and Chairman of the Laser Technology Division at TRUMPF. During the pandemic, the chosen course in the direction of Photonics 4.0 paid off. Especially as networked 4.0 production is based on the communication capability of the different process and production participants, says Alexander Arndt, Manager of Digitalization and Process Design at Laserline GmbH. What currently bridges interrupted communication channels, will, in the future, open the door to increases in productivity, quality, and availability – and pave the way for IT-compliant integration of laser systems in production networks.
First findings for 2020: mild effects of the pandemic
While the market opportunities of networked Photonics 4.0 still have to concretize, the industry association SPECTARIS provided a glimmer of hope at the end of December 2020: according to a survey carried out in collaboration with OptecNet among photonics companies, their business situation at the end of the year was better than they had expected in summer. In June, they had predicted a ten percent drop in sales compared to 2019. In November, at minus three percent, the outlook was rosier – although more than 60 percent of those surveyed expected a worse result than in 2019. Against the background of the global pandemic with lockdowns, travel restrictions, and problems with supply chains, the situation in the industry remains surprisingly stable. SPECTARIS Managing Director Jörg Mayer attributes this to the important role that photonics has played in combating the pandemic, developing vaccines, and in the digital transformation, which has gained ground in many areas due to the coronavirus, such as in analysis, bio and laboratory technology, online data storage, communication technology, including world-spanning video and web meetings.