15 Jun 2017
5 Things You Should Know Before Buying an Industrial Laser
Having the ability to meet the demands of a client can be quite important for the success of your company. With new and improved laser marking and cutting technology, fabricators can keep up with the demand while continuing to produce high-quality products while staying ahead of the competition to handle an ever-widening range of projects.
Let’s say you have been thinking about purchasing an industrial laser. You have done some research on the internet and perhaps came across some laser machines while attending industrial exhibitions and conventions. What you have learned so far about laser fascinates you, and you are beginning to get serious about owning a laser unit for your factory, office, and laboratory.
Getting a laser machine is a high investment activity, and you think you still need more information to ensure your decision is adequately informed and the right one for you and your clients. Below are the 5 essential things you should know before buying an industrial laser machine.
Types of lasers and their usage
There are many types of lasers, each with their own unique applications. For instance, the excimer laser is used for laser surgery and LASIK; the COIL laser is used for military prototypes; the krypton laser is used for laser light shows, etc.
In this article, we will narrow the types of lasers down to two of the most common and widely used laser in the industrial and end-consumer context, Fibre (Solid-State Laser) and CO2 (Gas Laser) laser.
A common misconception from buyers who have limited information and exposure to industrial lasers is that a single type of laser can do everything. Well, it is indeed true a single laser can serve as a universal tool to process multiple applications such as marking, engraving, and cutting.
However, it does not necessarily mean a single type of laser can process all types of materials. A Fibre laser can process metal materials such as stainless steel, gold, and anodised material, but cannot process non-metal materials such as wood, acrylic, and fabric. Whereas a CO2 laser can process non-metal materials but cannot process metallic materials.
These are just a general rule of thumb and there are exceptions to these rules. A fibre laser can process some of the plastic materials such as ABS, and a high power CO2 laser (4K Watt and above) can be used to cut thick metal of more than 20mm. To find out more, do contact your sales person.
In a nutshell, you need to know which type of lasers you are buying to process your applications. If you are looking for a laser machine that can process both metals and non-metals, a machine such as the Trotec Speedy Flexx will be able to do so as the machine itself contains two laser sources, the Fibre and the CO2 lasers, in a single structure.
Types of laser system structures
In general, there are two types of laser system structures - the galvo system and the flatbed system.
The galvo system allows for a high speed and precise laser marking for small to medium size parts. The galvo system usually comes with a Fibre laser setup. Its main applications are used to laser mark parts such as promotional gifts (pen, power banks, watches, etc.), data plates, and industrial tools and parts with serial and QR codes.
The galvo system can easily be implemented into a company’s current automated workflow if needed and requires zero machine maintenance. The only downside of the galvo system is its limited working area. Typically, its working area ranges from 70mm x 70mm to 180mm x 180mm.
There is an extensive range of highly customisable galvo system provided by Finmark Laser Pte Ltd to suit your business needs.
The flatbed laser system is generally used for engraving and cutting applications, as such, it has a large working area compared to the galvo system.
A flatbed system (usually uses CO2 lasers, but fibre laser options are available if required) is the ideal machine for applications like display and signage, architectural models, promotional gifts, packaging and much more. Compressed air is needed on the flatbed system to process almost any application in order to have good engraving or cutting results. The Trotec Speedy Series comes with a built-in air compressor that can cover most applications. However, it is recommended to possess an external air compressor with a higher air pressure to do cutting on thick materials of more than 6mm.
Minor DIY maintenance is needed for a flatbed laser system to ensure a smooth operation throughout the machine’s life cycle. Running cost and maintenance for the Trotec Speedy Series machine is kept to the minimum thanks to the highest quality components and design, even under intensive usage.
The lifespan of the laser source
As much as you want the laser source to last forever, there is a lifespan to it. Meaning, the laser tubes become degraded over time and their output wattage will decline.
For a fibre laser system, briefly, there is only one type of the fibre laser structure where fibre laser light is created by banks of diodes. The light is channeled and amplified through fibre optic cable similar to that used for data transfer. There is two major fibre laser manufacturers in the world, namely SPI Lasers and IPG Photonics. Through our experience in Finmark Laser Pte Ltd, a typical lifespan of a fibre laser from both of these manufacturers are about 30,000 hours. The longevity of the laser lifespan is also greatly dependent on the condition and temperature of the environment the machine is placed, especially for an air-cooled fibre laser system.
For a CO2 laser system, depending on what type of laser tube you are using, the lifespan of your laser varies. In general, there are 3 types of laser tube, namely the glass tube, the metal tube, and the ceramic tube.
The obvious benefit of the glass laser tube machine is its low price. Its price can get as low as 1/2 or even 1/3 of a similar power wattage metal tube laser machine. As attractive as the low-priced machine can be, especially for small start-up enterprises that are tight on budget, there are several downsides of owning a glass tube laser machine.
The first disadvantage of a glass laser tube would be its poor laser beam performance. A glass laser tube has unstable power output parameters with a poor density laser beam, thus it is not suited to do high-quality raster engraving. This is especially important if part of your business is to provide laser engraving services for customers.
The second disadvantage of a glass laser tube is that it requires a water chiller unit in order to operate. An additional unit reflects additional cost and footprint.
The third disadvantage of a glass laser tube is its short lifespan. A typical Chinese glass laser tube can last for about 2000 hours of operation (which equates to about 1 year of lifespan) and the glass laser tube may fail within 5-6 months even without being used because the Helium inside may have leaked out due to the sealing method. You will then have to purchase a new glass laser tube, which leads to the fourth disadvantage; the glass laser tube is unrepairable.
A glass laser tube cannot be repaired. Compared to a typical metal laser tube which can be fixed and gas refilled, the glass laser tube must be discarded and be replaced with a new one.
The fifth disadvantage of a glass laser tube is that it is not protected by a metal housing and looks like a piece of glass that easily cracks and damages during transportation and shipping. If you are a hobbyist who needs a CO2 laser for a short time to run it and do basic prototyping and feasibility tests then, by all means, get the cheapest laser tube you can afford until you are ready for a better machine. If you are a professional and owning a CO2 laser machine plays a paramount part of your business model and operations, you should consider getting at least a metal laser tube machine.
A metal laser tube overcomes all the disadvantages of a glass laser tube. A metal laser tube is air-cooled, meaning you do not need to purchase an additional water chiller unit to cool the tube. The metal laser tube can be pulsed with higher frequency, giving superior raster engraving quality, and on average, a metal laser tube life runs at 4-6 years of constant usage before a refill / replacement is needed.
The CeramiCore technology, or ceramic laser tube, was originally designed for scientific and aerospace applications that demanded the highest standard of reliability and longevity. Now, this technology has integrated itself with Trotec’s laser machine, and Trotec is currently the only laser manufacturer providing such technology to the laser market.
A ceramic laser tube offers all the advantages a metal laser tube has and more. A ceramic laser tube does not have aluminum welds or sealings compared to the metal and glass laser tubes which could leak over time. This translates to a longer laser lifespan and laser beam stability from year to year. The ceramic laser tube can be operated at much greater pressures resulting in faster pulse speeds, which in turn are critical for high-speed engraving and marking applications. Also, it features a lower energy consumption of up to 30% as compared to a metal laser tube.
Ambient temperature and aging effect
So far, you know that the increasing lifetime of the laser machine and operating hours are the factors for the lifespan of a laser. Ambient temperature also plays an important part in the longevity of a laser tube.
As shown in figure 8, the ambient temperature affects the longevity of the laser tube significantly. If you are operating at a very hot ambient temperature of more than 26 degrees Celsius, the lifetime of the laser tube reduces by more than 30%! Also, do take note that ambient temperatures that are too low (below 15 degrees Celsius) are as destructive as too high temperatures. You can go here to find out how you can prepare your laser machines under high (especially when you are located in South-East Asia) and low ambient temperatures.
You have made a big step forward in purchasing your own laser machine and cannot wait to explore the wide spectrum of possibilities with it. However, do take note that if you are the owner and want to operate a laser machine in Singapore, be it in your factory, office, fab labs, etc., you need to obtain a laser license from NEA (National Environment Agency).
There is a list of laser licenses available through NEA, and laser license “N2” is the one that you should be applying.
About Finmark Laser
Finmark Laser Pte Ltd is the authorised reseller for Trotec laser marking and cutting systems. Finmark Laser Pte Ltd specialises in designing and manufacturing industrial laser cutting, laser marking, and laser welding equipment. Based in Singapore, Finmark Laser is dedicated to uphold a high standards of machinery and customer relations in the industry.
With business dealing across Asia-Pacific, Finmark Laser supports businesses to optimise their business operations through the integration of laser solutions into their production process. For additional information about Finmark Laser, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.finmarklaser.com
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