In the market for a low-cost fiber laser cutting machine?
As the demand for fiber laser cutting equipment continues to grow, more OEMs are serving this need. As a result, fabricators have an ever-growing number of makes and models of fiber laser cutting machines to choose from, including very cost-competitive “just-the-essentials” machines. Low-cost laser cutting machines have become so economical and readily available that many fabricators who are outsourcing their laser cutting work are taking a hard look at adding a “no-frills” laser to their shop to reduce production costs, increase flexibility in their product design, better control lead times and product quality.
What Makes it so Economical?
The “no-frills” fiber laser delivers the core benefits of fiber laser technology: the ability to process a range of ferrous and non-ferrous materials, achieve high accuracy, and operate with minimal maintenance required. A “no-frills” laser is typically offered with a power source of 3– or 6-kW, has a 4×8 work envelope, PC-based control, uses a laser head with fewer automated features, and is built on a cantilever design. To keep its economy, specifications are lower in terms of maximum positioning speeds and simultaneous axis speeds. Features such as additional safety guards, dust collector and assist gas filters are extra.
Why a “No-frills” Laser?
- A low purchase price for a fiber laser cutting machine is attractive, but the application must always be the top consideration.
- To evaluate whether a “no-frills” laser is a good choice, it’s important to understand your application requirements and to ensure the capacity and performance of the fiber laser machine aligns with your needs.
- Generally speaking, a low-cost laser meets the cutting needs of light gauge materials from 22 gauge to 1/4-inch mild steel, stainless steel and aluminum.
- If the parts being manufactured have a low price point, a feature-rich machine at a high price tag would actually increase the direct cost per part. In this application, a “no-frills” machine is ideal.
- The laser power determines the cutting speeds. A 3- or 6-kW laser source is able to cut all ranges of materials that a more expensive machine would cut using the same power level.
No matter its economy, machine construction is absolutely critical to reliable machine performance.
Consider the core components of the laser cutting machine – the laser power source, laser head and CNC system:
- Power source: The fiber laser is the most critical and expensive component of the laser cutting machine. Look for a field-proven laser source known for high stability and long-term performance. In the low- and medium-power fiber laser market, there are a number of recognizable manufacturers that offer tested cutting technologies.
- Laser head: The laser head optimizes the cutting function of the fiber laser. A laser head that provides automatic adjustment will adjust the focus position as needed to generate consistently high-quality cuts and keep cutting continuous without operator intervention. Look for a proven brand that can provide long cutting cycles. Keep in mind that a lower-cost laser will not have a wealth of automated features such as zoom focus built into its cutting head.
- CNC control/drives: The CNC control, motors and drives work together to control the laser cutting machine. The integration of these components offers a high degree of CNC system reliability, as well as higher processing speed.
How about Automation?
Increasingly, material handling systems are considered necessary to efficiently keep pace with the throughput of a fiber laser. Historically, these systems used hydraulics, but today’s faster material exchange systems are servo driven. Even a simple automation system can enhance the efficiency of a laser cutting machine. Look for a laser cutting machine with automation capability.
Consider Service and Support
While a “no-frills” laser may be attractively priced, don’t neglect to consider maintenance and servicing of the equipment. The machine’s service needs should factor into cost of ownership.
All laser cutting machines, including fiber lasers, require preventative maintenance to deliver good cutting performance. Service intervals must be completed to keep the machine in top working condition. Be sure that the machine manufacturer you choose provides readily-available maintenance and service support, including applications assistance. In this regard, an established machinery supplier scores better than newcomers to the market. An established OEM has a ready network of trained field service staff familiar with and capable of maintaining critical components such as the laser source, chiller and cutting head. Also, check that spare parts are readily available.
Without adequate after-sale support, maintenance costs and downtime for machine servicing could impact your ROI and the production life of the machine.
What to look for in a low-cost fiber laser
- Reliability: Integrated laser, control and servo motors offer a high degree of reliability
- Stability: A solid frame and table design are essential, as are field-proven components
- Good access: Any point on the cutting table should be easy to reach; the machine should be easily serviceable
- Good machine dynamics for its class
- Local service support including application assistance
- Spare parts availability