In this article we consider the future of Laser cutting in the UK, what are the most likely developments in the next five years and how will this help UK Laser Cutting customers.
There are numerous laser cutting companies in the UK with the majority based around the traditional metalworking geographical areas such as Birmingham or Sheffield. Over the next few years we would imagine that trend to stay the same as the barriers to entry of setting up a laser cutting company in the UK remain high. For example, an entry level laser will still cost around £300,000 from any of the main providers such as Trumpf or Bystronic.
UK Laser Cutting Costs
Along with most industries in the UK the cost of laser cutting has increased over the past few years. In the main down to higher electricity costs, the cost of steel and the inflationary pressures on wages. However, we would expect the pace of the price increases to slow over the next few years as companies lock in to the lower electricity contracts now available. The increased use of Fiber laser cutting machines will also help the industry maintain it’s competitive edge. As well as being around 40% more economical to run than traditional CO2 lasers they also process material at a quicker run rate.
Focus on sustainability
UK laser cutting companies like most other companies will increasingly have to focus on how they can increase sustainability. Some of this will happen naturally as CO2 lasers start to become obsolete and replaced with energy efficient fiber lasers. In addition, laser manufacturers will also be focusing on how their machines can make better use of technology to reduce operating gas costs such as Nitrogen. Much of the material already used by laser cutting companies in the UK is recycled and the larger companies will probably set targets on how much recycled material they use compared to virgin steel.
Robotics and Artificial Intelligence
The laser cutting industry was one of the early adopters of robotics which were utilised for part handling and machine loading. However, these are mainly limited to high volume jobs where parts can be set up to run for days rather than hours. In the next five years we expect to see the start of “work alongside robots” that can assist operators with the smaller runs that are carried out by laser cutting subcontractors who cut multiple jobs for multiple customers each day. These robots will be able to help with loading and unloading of parts from cutting beds as well as for loading sheet metal onto the laser cutting machine.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is yet to really take off in laser cutting but the major manufacturers are no doubt looking to see how they can use machine learning to reduce the need for operator invention on laser power and cutting speeds. We believe AI will also help with UK laser cutting companies that offer 5 axis laser cutting by predicting laser head collisions before they occur and then adjusting laser head movement and speed to suit.
In conclusion, the future of for the UK laser industry is bright as it’s applications continue to grow and we see a stabilisation of input prices. In addition, laser machine manufacturers are large companies that need to continually innovate in order to sell new machines to new and existing users.