China surpassed Europe as the biggest consumer of laser systems in 2015, according to Optech Consulting, a Swiss consulting firm for the laser and photonics industry.
In an article for Laser Systems Europe, Arnold Mayer, general manager of Optech Consulting, said that the global market for laser systems has grown by 7% annually over the last 10 years, with China being a major driver.
Europe was the largest user of laser systems for more than 20 years, after overtaking the United States in the early 1990s. But the Chinese market has been expanding rapidly.
In 2005 China accounted for sales of only $300m, representing 5% of the global market, but by 2011 the Chinese market had increased to $1.8bn. Growth has fluctuated more recently, however, and in 2015 the growth rate was only about 5%, reflecting the overall slowdown in the Chinese economy.
Looking ahead, Mayer addressed the question of whether the laser materials processing market in China will continue to expand.
He referred to Japan, which was close to becoming the largest laser user in the 1980s before the market fell as industrial production was transferred from Japan to lower wage countries.
"We do not expect that this will occur in China in the foreseeable future," Mayer said. "The present boom in laser materials processing in China is founded on a large and growing basis of industrial manufacturing that is adopting lasers. As long as manufacturing in China grows faster than in most other parts of the world, we expect that the demand for laser materials processing systems will show more than average growth."