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Zap! Lasers a $1-billion industry by the early '90s.

Zap! Lasers a $1-billion industry by the early '90s

Any system that can be applied to everything from sport welding to eye surgery is bound to do well in the marketplace. And so it is with lasers, which have finally shed their science-fiction tag and are beaming their way into nearly every sector of the US economy.

Although laser technology has been with us since the '60s, the surface of its full application potential has yet to be scratched. The domestic market for all types of nonmilitary lasers stood at $210 million in 1982 (the most recent figures we could find)--an increase of nearly tenfold from 1972--but this seems to be only the beginning.

In a recently published report, US laser system markets, Predicasts Inc, Cleveland, OH, projects US nonmilitary laser systems sales to reach $665 million by 1987, and a whopping $1.6 billion by the mid '90s. More impressively, says Research Analyst Edward Hester, the industry will grow at a pace roughly three times that of the nation's GNP over the same period.

One of the best estimates of the number of lasers used in domestic materials processing applications was provided by the IIT Research Institute (IITRI), Chicago, IL, in a 1982 study performed for the Electric Power Research Institute. IITRI estimates that about 4300 materials-processing lasers were being used for all types of manufacturing processing tasks on both metals and nonmetallic materials.

At the beginning of last year, there were over 5000 lasers in use, albeit most were processing plastics or were used in very low-power microlectronic applications such as microsoldering.

According to another report, Lasers in metalworking--a summary and forecast, from Tech Tran Corp, Naperville, IL, at the end of 1982 only about 250 to 300 lasers were used specifically for metalworking applications. The largest user was the auto industry, which accounts for nearly one third of all lasers used in US metalworking operations (see chart).

The recession devastated most manufacturing-oriented industries, but the slump's apparent effect on industrial lasers was to hold growth in this segment to 17 percent per year from 1972 to 1982. The $60 million spent for such lasers in 1982 covered a number of applications, including welding, drilling, cutting, heat treating, and lithography.

Lasers are expected to benefit from the ongoing economic recovery, based on the ability to provide increased productivity, pinpoint precision, and reduced labor and energy costs. By 1987, Predicates projects the industrial market to reach $165 million, a temporary stop on the way to $400 million by the middle of the next decade.

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Title Annotation:Predicasts; Tech Tran
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Feb 1, 1984
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