There are a huge number of flatbed laser cutting systems available to users on the market now, but how do you separate the potential headaches and minefields from laser cutting nirvana? What laser source should I select, what power, what materials can I cut? So many questions, so many choices; in this simple guide we seek to shed some light on laser cutters, give you an idea of what to look out for and hopefully help you to avoid any issues.
Here are our basic 5 tips to buying a laser:
- Make sure you have the space for the machine… sounds obvious, but often laser machine dimensions refer to the cutting table size, not the machine footprint. A 600 x 400 machine is actually almost 1.5m wide and 1.2m deep. Check the space you plan to put the machine and make sure you have at least 50cm around the machine for access – it’s potentially a bit awkward to explain to your better half when a laser appears in the living room.
- Have a good idea of how large the parts you want to cut are – at Thinklaser, all our machines are modular so, if we need to, we can upgrade laser power (within reason), we can’t change the size of the bed. It’s also worth considering the number of parts you are looking to cut. If you are looking to cut thousands of small parts, it’s often more efficient to have a larger bed so you can run larger batches.
- Choose a supplier who can support and service the machine. This is absolutely paramount. It’s very tempting to look at low cost machines on the internet, however often the supplier will struggle to support you if they do not have a presence in the UK. Lasers are fairly complex machines and there are a number of things that can go wrong and will need to be carefully looked after. Having a friendly voice at the end of the phone or on skype/facetime to talk you through issues as they crop up will be worth every penny extra you spend on the machine.
- What can you cut or etch with which laser? There are two main types of laser, CO2 and Fibre. These refer to the way the laser beam is generated. CO2 laser systems pass an electric current through a gas mix (CO2, Helium & Nitrogen) whereas a fibre laser will generate the beam using LED diodes – we will delve into the pro’s and cons in a future blog post, however a good rule of thumb is that CO2 lasers are good for non-metallic materials and Fibre lasers are better suited to metallic applications. That being said, it will take a long time for a low wattage fibre laser to cut metal – if you are looking to cut metal, you need to be in the 1KW+ power range.
- What laser power should you buy? Laser power is a function of material thickness, the thicker the material, the more power you will need to cut it. More powerful systems can also cut the mid-range of materials faster than lower power machines. However, more powerful lasers cost more to buy and run. Consumables are also more expensive, so it’s worth speaking to an expert about your application to ensure you get the optimum laser set up.
Laser cutting is a great technology, its highly versatile, doesn’t require any tooling and can process a wide range of materials. You can also pretend to be Dr. Evil…but that’s another story. It’s wonderful to have so many options on the market today, however a laser system is a complex machine and does require the right set up and training to get running properly, especially if you are new to it. The right support and after sales service will go a long way to making the learning curve much shorter and more enjoyable.
The two central principles we operate under at Thinklaser are customer support (phone support is free from 9-5 Monday to Friday) and the quality and reliability of our machines. Every single machine is run through our 67 point pre-delivery inspection by our Head of Service, Gavin, the results are then recorded on our database along with a video log of the machine.
If you would like to find out more about our Lightblade range of laser systems or have any questions regarding laser cutting, come and talk to us, we are always happy to help out.