24 Sep How do I choose the right laser cutter?
The laser cutting industry is expanding rapidly, and thousands of laser cutters are sold each year.
With so many choices, how do you choose the right one?
Hopefully we’ll increase the likelihood of that by the end of this article.
Let’s be honest, laser engravers can be a significant investment, but in the right hands are a superb tool when setting up a new venture. There are so many variables to choose from, including laser sources to bed sizes, laser tube power and accessories.
Machine selection is essentially a function of 3 things:
- What material do you want to cut/engrave and how thick? This will determine what type and power of laser you will need.
- What bed size do you need? This will determine what machine size is best for you.
- What is your available budget? This is essentially the acid test as to whether your power and machine size expectations are realistic or if some adjustment is necessary or possible.
There are a few other tips we strongly advise you to take note of that we will mention later.
If you’re buying your first machine, unless you’ve already used a machine elsewhere or have carried out diligent research you’re unlikely to have extensive knowledge in the field. This is the time to start researching and speaking to machine owners. You can find plenty of groups on social media where you can get in touch with these people. We highly recommend speaking to an industry professional to get more of an insight. We host machine demonstrations and visit exhibitions so you can spend some time with one of our engineers to get to know the machine and its capabilities first-hand.
One of the first things to consider when thinking about purchasing a laser cutter or engraver is the type of laser you need. The most common are CO2 and Fiber. Our article CO2 vs Fibre can tell you more about the functionalities and capabilities of these two types. For more information on Nd and Nd-YAG lasers visit AI Metal Finishing
CO2 lasers can engrave and cut a lot of non-metallic materials such as woods and plastics but, when working with metals the wavelength and additional power of a fibre laser is much more suited. If you’re only marking uncoated metals, a CO2 lasers can mark some metals when coated with a metal marking solution such as MarkSolid Marking Spray or Paste. However, when it comes to metallic materials, CO2 machines produce excellent results on coated metals, such as anodized and powder coated, without the need for a marking compound. CO2 Galvo Engravers are specifically designed for executing these kind of jobs at incredible speeds.
If you’re interested in marking uncoated metals, a fibre engraver would be more suitable.
Are you a hobbyist using the machine occasionally? Or a business wanting to run the machine for long hours each day to meet demand? For somebody cutting card and engraving plywood a Desktop setup would usually be ideal, whereas if you’re cutting thicker woods and plastics a higher powered CO2 machine would be more suited. However, if you’re wanting to create high volumes of metallic products at speed, a fibre engraver would be more effective and efficient.
The size of the bed dictates the maximum size of materials you can cut (a larger bed will allow you to work with bigger pieces of material). Even if the design area is small, you can cut it multiple times across the same piece. The majority of the HPC range includes a pass-through panel that you can feed material through that would otherwise be too large to fit on the bed.
A bed with a height adjustment feature means you can cut objects of different heights, as you can lower the bed to allow space for bigger items. This does not change the depth of the lasers cut, but is still an important feature if you’re considering working or experimenting with different sizes, or if you wish to install a rotary attachment for engraving cylindrical objects.
Suppliers and Distributors
When searching for a supplier or distributor to buy a laser from there are a few things to look out for. Firstly, a company with good feedback and reviews. You can find them on a number of sites, from Facebook to Trustpilot. Reviews are a great way of getting an insight into a company and what you can expect if you decide to use them. A business with experience, quality customer service and that can provide maintenance support is essential when purchasing equipment as specialised as a laser cutter. To quote a recent customer “Until you’ve owned a laser and built your business model around it, you may not understand how important after sales service actually is. Trust me, it’s critical!”
HPC Laser offers free of charge lifetime email and telephone technical support should you need it at any point in the future. Whether you’re cutting for fun or have client demands to meet, if you have any questions about your machine you don’t want to be waiting on a reply for weeks.
These points may sound fairly obvious, yet many people still rush to make a decision solely based on the price of a product.
If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are many sellers that sell cheap machines with little, if any quality control measures in place. They often use substandard components with little attention to detail and often arrive differently to as ordered, sometimes even broken. Parts need replacing more frequently, and without warranty, servicing or expert technical support, your experience is suddenly much more complex than it needs to be. There have been many UK suppliers over the years that have set up supplying laser machines, only to quickly go out of business when their customer base needs support and backup.
Most importantly, they don’t always comply with safety regulations and procedures (such as CE) which can be extremely dangerous considering the function and power of these machines.
Water cooled CO2 laser machines need to be cooled continuously using a water source that can consistently keep the water temperature below 25°C. A water chiller from HPC will reliably keep your water temperature between 5°C and 25°C when paired with laser machines up to 150W! They also offer upper and lower temperature alarms and an alarm to warn of flow restrictions, ensuring that you do not permanently damage your laser tube through insufficient cooling.
The size of these systems varies broadly depending on application, from portable to freestanding. It’s important to use a chiller powerful enough for your machine; larger cutters cannot be regulated by low power chillers.
You may be given a chiller or pump as part of your machine package, which is great, just be sure that it’s appropriate for the machine you’re running. If you are in any doubt, please contact HPC Laser for some reassuring advice.
Water temperature affects performance and functionality. If the water is too hot, the lasers performance will suffer and the machine is likely to overheat. This can lead to permanent damage to your machine, particularly your tube.
If water freezes in the chiller, the motor can be damaged, and internal water circuits begin to crack. Obviously, this prevents the chiller from working properly which again can lead to overheating but can also cause irreparable damage. To avoid this you can use antifreeze coolant such as LS Coolflow. For more information on chillers and general maintenance read How to Maintain and Service Your Laser Machine Effectively.
Please keep these points in mind when delving into the world of laser machines. This will increase the likelihood of you buying the perfect machine for your requirements. HPC offer impartial advice and demonstrations to give customers the opportunity to learn more about the lasers and their capabilities. If you’d like to book one please get in touch on 01422 310800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.