Laser systems are increasingly becoming a vital component of a modern workshop or production facility. One of the most cost effective routes to introduce laser technology into a business is via the Flatbed machines utilising glass C02 laser tubes.
The glass CO2 laser tubes used in these machines are relatively inexpensive compared to other laser sources and are typically classed as a consumable item with warranty periods ranging from 3 to 12 months. These simple tips will help you to prolong the tubes life and get even more value for your hard earned cash.
1 – Check which tubes are fitted to new machines
If you are buying a new laser machine find out up front what tube is fitted, as quality across brands varies greatly. There are also some unscrupulous sellers out there who will rebadge defective tubes and sell them as new. EFR Laser and RECI Laser are internationally recognised brands known for good quality. Getting a good tube right from the start will enhance your chances for a long working life.
2 – Check the correct power rating of the tube
Some suppliers market tubes at their “Max Power” and not at the correct “Rated Power” meaning you think you are buying a 50 watt tube which is actually rated at 40 watts. A quick easy guide is the physical size of the tube. E.g. if you are being sold a 50 watt tube and it’s only 800 mm long then you probably getting a tube with a Rated Power of 40 watts. Meaning your tube may be underpowered for your application and you will potentially need to “overdrive” (see item 5) the tube to get the performance you need. Typical sizes include;
- 55 x 800mm = 40 watt tube
- 55 x 1000mm = 50 watt tube
- 55 x 1200mm = 60 watt tube
- 80 x 1200mm = 80 watt tube
- 80 x 1400mm = 100 watt tube
3 – Find a supplier you can trust
If you are looking for a replacement tube make sure you buy a quality brand from a trusted supplier. If your replacement tube fails and your supplier won’t answer your emails, you may well have to shell out on another new tube. Check out the laser forums and ask for recommendations.
4 – Check manufacturing dates
Check the manufacturing date on the tube rating label, it should be as close to the current date as possible, although 6~8 weeks difference is not uncommon.
5 – Don’t overdrive the tube!
Check the manufacturer’s data and recommendations for optimum current to achieve long live. E.g. EFR’s 1200CL 60 watt tube has a recommendation of 22mA or below. If you don’t have a milliammeter fitted, it would be a good idea to fit one yourself.
6 – Keep them clean
Cleanliness is very important contributor to tube life. You will typically lose between 9 and 13% of your laser power through your mirrors and lens. When they are dirty this can increase significantly, the additional loss of power at the work surface will mean you either need to lower the working speed or increase the laser power. Either way the laser will be working harder or longer than needed, shortening the life of the tube.
7 – Be aware of overheating
Never run a glass CO2 laser tube without sufficient cooling. Overheating reduces the performance and can cause permanent damage. Whenever possible use a dedicated water cooler / chiller unit with an electrical interface to the laser that stops the laser operating if the water cooling unit is not running. A sealed water tank with a fishpond pump should only be considered with the smallest laser tubes.
8 – Regularly monitor your tubes
All tubes will have a finite life and the power output will gradually decrease with time. Buy yourself a low cost power meter and regularly check the power directly out of the laser tube. Once it hits around 65% of the Rated Power (the actual percentage depends on your application and throughput) it’s time to start planning for a replacement.
It’s not unheard of to have tubes lasting 2 years or more, but they will eventually fail and usually at the most awkward time. So plan ahead and order a replacement tube while yours is still working, it can still be used as an emergency backup.