Dr. Bo Gu, a US analyst from BOS Photonics described China’s planned economy and the laser market there. The 13th 5-year plan promotes rapid industrialization and electric mobility. One effect: Four of the top 5 battery manufacturers in the world are based in China. Another major project is the One Belt, One Road initiative, which aims to revive an ancient network of trade routes to Europe and Africa. According to Gu, laser technology plays a major role in both projects. The same applies to the national strategy “Made in China 2025,” with which China plans to become a technology exporter in ten key sectors: aerospace, high-speed rail, electric mobility, robotics/networked production, IT, agricultural machinery construction, marine vessels, energy plants, new materials, and bio and medical technology. “All of these sectors use lasers,” said Gu in Aachen, Germany, which certainly provided some food for thought.
With regard to growth rates, China’s laser markets are already impressive. For instance, fiber lasers, where sales in the power range up to 100 watts increased from 18,000 to more than 82,000 units in the last five years. Noteworthy: Imports halved during this time. Things look better for foreign providers in the medium power range to 1.5 kilowatts, where imports in-creased from 1,000 to 8,500 units. But, at the same time, sales from local providers rose from 200 to more than 13,000 units. International manufacturers remain ahead only in the high power range (>1.5 kW): Although Chinese providers have increased sales by a factor of a hundred to 500 units since 2013, most of the growth took place with imported systems (from 620 to 4,200 units).
Even if Chinese manufacturers import important laser components, the direction is clear. They are catching up at an impressive rate and are ready to take over a leading role in major projects in the area of modern industrial processes, low-emission mobility, and energy generation.
Analysts David Belforte and Ronald Schaeffer see a ray of hope for the US laser industry, which has been ailing for many years: Since 2009, sales of lasers have increased by more than 250 percent—from USD 1.2 to 4.3 billion. The top sellers were Coherent, IPG, II-VI Incorporated and Lumentum, where sales revenue grew in the two to three digit percentage range as a result of acquisitions. The experts believe that the trade policies of the Trump administration will determine whether this trend continues or not. Against this background, they chose not to make any detailed predictions in Aachen.