Buyer’s Guide: Sourcing Laser Equipment

How to choose a laser machine

You may have heard stories from your friends about laser processing. Stories about how it can bring new business, or reduce costs in production. Or maybe you saw an image of the results of laser processing, and thought it could help resolve problems in your current manufacturing process and decided to start sourcing laser equipment. Once you start, one of the first things you will find is that there are many models and options in the market. As such, the following four points should be clarified first:

1. Laser Source vs. Laser System equipment

There are many manufacturers that provide industrial laser products in different degrees of completion. All these solutions are called “lasers” however and might lead buyers to purchase products that are nor in a working state.

This laser source refers to the component level product only, without further integration it cannot even emit a beam. A laser system, however, is a laser source integrated with a controller, computer and software, which can be controlled and operated by the end user, as well as further integration with a workstation which can block radiation. All of this, makes the laser source, laser equipment. Except for a small quantity of laser integrators, most end users, need laser equipment, not a laser source or laser system, even though they are all called “lasers”.

2. Standard Laser Equipment vs. Custom Laser Equipment

New buyers use a consumer goods mindset to source the industrial laser equipment they need, reading datasheets, or calling vendors for information and sales, then shop around using that information. This sometimes works with standard laser equipment, however, statistical data shows that more than 80% of buyers actually have some need, small or large, for customization of their laser equipment in order for it to best suit their needs.

Small customizations include designing and marking fixture for certain workpiece, revising dimension to fit the operator, replacing some electric safety components with the appointed brand, painting different color of machine enclosure etc.
More significant customizations include integrating the laser system production line, customizing beam delivery design or laser source, creative design of automation subsystem.

3. Balancing Current Needs and Future Performance Extension

Different salespeople may propose different machine configurations, and even advise you to buy laser equipment with a stronger power source, or higher precision motion control modules, but as laser technology develops and advances so quickly, prices often get reduced every 3 to 5 years. Knowing this, the best solution is to choose a vendor who is able to provide retrofitting and upgrade services, which will extend machine performance in the future, this way your investment has a shorter return time.

4. Three Basic Questions When Clarifying Your Needs

Where is the machine going to be placed? There are cubicle table tops, workbench tops, and freestanding versions which accordingly fit into space in a lab/office, small workshop, and large working floor.

Which laser system should I choose? Most laser equipment manufacturers provide free presale sampling application studies, send your workpiece samples and review the sampling report to ensure the machine performance will match your needs.

Should I consider automation integration in the beginning? That depends on your business pattern. Using the entire cost of equipment and labor divided by workpiece unit margin, you can calculate a production volume for investment return, compared against your order forecast, you have a solid baseline for decision making. You can select from instant purchasing or future upgrades. Some applications cannot be based on a simple economic analysis as in the previous example, for instance, the lab inspection equipment which can be linked into large production yields. In this scenario, you should consider a less loss method of decision making.

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