In light of the evolving global industrial demands, the laser industry and technology are shifting towards meeting the requirements of 5G semiconductors and advanced processes for smart vehicles. While Taiwan's laser industry has made substantial progress over the years, maintaining alignment with international advancements necessitates a proactive push in independent laser technology.
The laser industry has experienced significant revenue growth in recent years, driven by the increasing sophistication and systematization of the manufacturing sector. Laser processes have become integral to manufacturing, with the laser source serving as a crucial module in laser processing equipment, constituting a third of the cost and influencing processing success. The global landscape of laser sources is evolving to meet industry needs, marked by challenges and innovations.
The Laser Optics Valley project in Taiwan has spurred the emergence of laser source startups, contributing to the formation of the upstream segment of the laser industry's ecological chain.
Laser applications have given rise to a new era of light manufacturing. Exciting the medium in the resonant cavity produces photons through external energy, and their amplification and output generate a controlled laser beam. Over the past decades, lasers have been vital in optical communication and storage. Recent advancements in laser source technology have propelled laser processing applications beyond optical communication and storage, making optical storage the primary global application field for lasers. The controllability of laser sources facilitates seamless integration with automation modules and equipment, establishing lasers as indispensable tools for material processing through system integration.
In 2019, the global machine tool market reached $83.1 billion, with global laser processing system revenue at approximately $17.9 billion, constituting about 21.5% of the machine tool market. The laser processing system plays a crucial role in material processing. Over the past two decades, the compound annual growth rate of the laser processing system has been 9.4%, twice that of the machine tool industry. However, in 2019, the trade war and tariff impacts, coupled with a tightening market and saturation in China, led to a decline in laser application performance, especially for high-power laser sources.
Material processing, representing 33% of the laser source application market, stands as the world's largest market. Optical fiber laser sources dominate material processing, with high-power processing reaching a market size of approximately $2.97 billion in 2019, making it the largest laser source application market globally. The focus on metal cutting, driven by advancements in high-power laser sources, has improved production speed, quality, and cost-effectiveness. The next high-power processing application is metal welding, predicted to have substantial growth opportunities, especially in applications related to new energy vehicles.
The global laser micro-processing market, valued at approximately $1.34 billion in 2019, experienced a slight decrease of 8.8%. Key applications include optoelectronic semiconductor/PCB/display industries, driven by emerging technologies like 5G communications and self-driving cars.
Looking ahead, laser technology will play a pivotal role in 5G communications, high-brightness solid-state displays, self-driving cars, and new energy vehicles. Whether high-power or ultra-fast lasers, their cutting and welding technologies are becoming indispensable, impacting industries such as 5G/6G, car electronics, and new energy vehicles. Laser integration into smart manufacturing is a notable trend, with intelligent laser equipment being developed by major international manufacturers. These smart factories enhance processing quality through functions like intelligent preparation, monitoring, and cutting.
Despite the impact of the epidemic, major international laser manufacturers are investing in new process technologies to meet future global manufacturing needs. Post-epidemic recovery is expected to drive a steady resurgence in the global laser industry, which is anticipated to evolve toward highly integrated and intelligent development.
In the face of international industrial developments, Taiwanese equipment manufacturers can leverage laser high-value application integration technology to enhance the processing speed and quality of the domestic industry. Key strategies include building independent optical manufacturing capability, driving investment in the machine tool and equipment industry, and fostering collaboration across the optical manufacturing industry's ecological chain through the use of intelligent expert systems.