The history of human progress can be measured and aligned with steady advances in material innovation. The industrial revolution heralded a new era of unprecedented technology advances particularly in the areas of material science and engineering, with material testing techniques and characterization playing a key role in its development. With increasing emphasis being laid on product quality and consumer safety, the establishment of standards and testing procedures cemented the role of material testing equipment in new product development, quality assurance, material evaluation and research & development. Material testing equipment has played a critical role in ensuring our day-to-day safety and quality of life, particularly with the rapid advances in modern manufacturing technologies and innovation in the fields of nanotechnology, biomedical and composites, among several others.
However, unlike other industrial inspection or testing technologies, such as nondestructive testing, the core mechanical design aspects of material testing equipment have remained largely unchanged for many decades. There haven’t been any radical changes in the design or working principle of these systems, although vendors have ensured systematic improvements in sensor and computing technology, software, electronics and robotics to be integrated with the latest material test systems. All these factors have helped greatly in improving the accuracy, speed and analysis capability of material testing equipment while they continue to be used for assessing physical characteristics such as hardness, creep, torsion, fatigue, strength, tension and compression of materials.
Market Overview-Overcoming HurdlesThe year 2009 was widely considered one of the most difficult for the global economy and the material test equipment market was no exception. Frost & Sullivan’s research indicated that the market revenue declined by almost 30% during the global recession, signaling one of the worst collapses in the history of the material testing equipment market. During the downturn, with economic uncertainty looming, key test equipment end users including automotive, aerospace and metals were forced to cut down on their testing and quality control budgets as well as new equipment purchases. The automotive industry, in particular, traditionally the biggest user of material testing equipment announced drastic expenditure cuts which were a key factor behind the steep decline in 2009. Automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) chose to remain cautious by adopting a wait-and-see approach, which led to a chain reaction as the entire automotive supply chain completely cut down on new equipment purchases.
Just as markets began to stabilize, the catastrophic events that occurred in 2011 at Fukushima, Japan threatened to derail the industry once again. Japan, the third largest economy and the second largest vehicle manufacturer in the world, is still recognized as one the biggest and most attractive markets for material testing equipment sales due to the high standards of quality maintained by Japanese manufacturers. The automotive industry was one of the hardest-hit industries by the earthquake, which is expected to have a profound impact, not only on Japanese OEMs and suppliers, but on the global automotive industry as a whole.
In 2012, the impact of the downturn continues to linger with the sovereign debt crisis deepening and threatening to engulf the entire European Union. However, overall the recovery has been nothing short of remarkable. Despite the market stabilization and its potential for growth, it is still not quite back to the levels displayed in 2008. Delayed spending as a result of the downturn has created significant latent demand across various end-user markets, and vendors expect this growth to sustain for the next 4-5 years. Research indicates that in addition to traditionally strong users of material testing equipment such as automotive, aerospace, primary metals and plastics-new application areas in the fields of biomedical, composites, medical devices and nanotechnology are expected to drive the market in the coming years.
Research indicates the global material testing equipment market generated revenues of $510.8 million in 2011, growing at a marginal rate of 3.1% over the previous year. The turnaround year for the industry was 2010 with steel companies and the automotive industry being the key forces driving its recovery faster than initially estimated by industry experts. Geographically, Asia-Pacific remains the fastest growth segment of this market with the progressive shift of manufacturing to the East as well as rapid industrial and economic development of emerging economies playing a vital role in its quick recovery.
In addition, increased investment in research and development for new materials, along with the emerging end-user applications in biomedical engineering, biotechnology, micromachining, medical devices and packaging industries, to name a few, are expected to enhance the growth potential of the mechanical test equipment market.
Competitive LandscapeAs the case with most technology driven and highly competitive instrumentation industries, the material testing market is dominated by incumbents who drive industry growth, regulatory and standardization trends, price points, and technology innovation. This restricts the growth and business potential of some of the smaller participants who may not have the same marketing strengths as some of their larger counterparts. Due to the nature of this market and the criticality of adhering to international codes and standards for quality, end users prefer working with well-established and recognized market participants. The well-installed distribution channels and marketing budgets of larger organizations further restrict the market opportunity for Tier I and Tier II vendors. This is highlighted by the fact that the top five participants in this market space account for as much as 75% of the total market revenue. The market is dominated by the ‘big three’ Tier 1 competitors, namely MTS Systems Corporation, Instron Corporation, and Zwick/Roell, while other participants have performed better regionally, such as Tinus Olsen in North America and Shimadzu Corporation in Asia Pacific.
Despite the considerable decline in market revenues and difficulties endured over the last few years, there haven’t been any significant changes in competitive positioning or market ranking, indicating that the effects of the downturn were felt across the board and weren’t limited to any segment of the market. Instron Corporation continues to remain the market leader, accounting for approximately a third of the global market revenue. This is primarily due to its strong presence across all product segments in this market including universal testing machines, hardness testers, servohydraulic testing machines and impact testers, while continually expanding its global presence through strategic mergers and acquisitions. On the other hand, MTS Systems Corporation, an industry-leading provider of testing and sensing solutions, specializes in servohydraulic testing machines and has built its brand name around this market expertise.
Steady Technological EnhancementsWhile the methodology for material testing has not changed significantly over the years, there have been considerable technology additions and improvements to the systems. Vendors recognize the importance of incorporating technologies that aid in improving customer productivity, especially in such a cost-sensitive environment. With ease-of-use and simplicity being identified as the two most critical parameters affecting customer decisions, vendors strive to improve functionality of equipment while maintaining a high degree of accuracy. The current selection of test equipment is integrated with the latest advances in computing, software, X-Y table and stepper motor technology. In addition, the need for fully-automated test systems, including the use of robotics to eliminate human error and enhance the productivity, is a growing trend. Although the high price point of automated systems restricts its availability to industries such as steel and aerospace, advantages such as reduced operator influence, repeatability, and accuracy continue to drive its adoption.
ConclusionThe global material testing equipment market can be characterized by a high degree of competitive pressure, which was exacerbated by a weakening economy. However, the role of material testing equipment driving some of today’s most advanced applications remains unquestionable and irreplaceable. Understanding fundamental failure mechanisms of components and materials has helped manufacturers develop and improve the best product designs for every application. Taking this into account, the market is poised for strong and steady growth in the coming years. While traditional markets will continue to remain the biggest users, emerging end-user segments such as medical and composites are likely to show highest growth potential for the material testing market. Q
AnalysisMarket revenue declined by almost 30% during the global recession.
Just as markets began to stabilize, catastrophic events in Fukushima, Japan, and Europe’s sovereign debt crisis threatened to derail the industry.
The global material testing equipment market generated revenues of $510.8 million in 2011, growing at a marginal rate of 3.1% over the previous year.
The top five participants in this market space account for as much as 75% of the total market revenue.