19 Feb How to Maintain and Service Your Laser Machine Effectively
Maintaining a CO2 laser is easy, but really important in order to keep your machine safe and operating well. There are many things that can go wrong if you don’t take the correct measures to keep your machine in good condition.
Why you should take maintenance seriously
Proper maintenance has many benefits and enhances the longevity of your machine, ensuring the laser can perform at an optimum which in turn keeps your money in your pocket as components are less likely to need replacing.
The intensity of the laser cutting process constantly creates fumes, smoke and debris. Together, these create a build-up of dirt within your machine and its accessories (chiller, fume filter etc.) This accumulation can cause system failures and overheating. You certainly don’t want to postpone business due to a breakdown, particularly one that could easily have been prevented!
Overheating and poor housekeeping can also cause fires. The risk of which can be easily mitigated with a little bit of simple care and maintenance. For more information on fire safety please visit the relevant section of Safe Selection and Use of Laser Machines.
How to maintain your machine
There are general maintenance tasks to carry out on your machine on a regular basis. Dust and debris are inevitably going to occur in every machine. However, it is important to minimise build up by regularly cleaning your machine, particularly the inside of the machine cabinet, the bed and anywhere where material off can collect.
Some materials like acrylic, MDF and woods release more fumes, residue and potentially flammable oils that contribute to this which can affect components of the machine and be a fire hazard if not managed properly. Be sure to check for accumulation of dust and debris on the impeller on the extractor fan unit as any build-up can impede its function (unless a fume filter is fitted).
Periodic maintenance of fan units is essential and should become more regular when processing materials like MDF, or with increased frequency and duration of use. To do this; disconnect the fan unit from the electrical supply, remove the extraction hoses and clean the impeller fan and ducting through the inlet and exhaust ports of the unit using a soft paint brush. Below are just a few examples of what can happen if you neglect the fan unit:
Check for correct operation of the air-assist compressor, including normal function of the compressor itself. Check for any obstruction in any filtration elements that may be present and inspect the delivery hose from the compressor to the cutting head to make sure that there are no obstructions and a suitable supply of air is reaching the nozzle. Reduced airflow to the nozzle can increase the risk of a flame breaking out on some materials whilst the machine is cutting.
Lubricate runners and the rise and fall of the bed using light oil to ensure these run smoothly, if not, friction can cause wear on moving components.
Simple visual inspections and monitoring results can help identify issues with performance before the machine becomes damaged. Testing your beam quality can be as simple as comparing cuts from today with cuts from pieces when machine was new – poor cuts may indicate bad alignment, a weakening laser tube or dirty optics.
Dirty optics reduce the beams strength. You can visually inspect the optics, however you may already notice poor results such as blurry lines, not cutting as deep etc. If optics aren’t cleaned, dirt can combust or burn into the surface of the optic, permanently damaging the lens or mirror. Aim to give them a once over every 10-40 hours of work, depending upon what material are being processed. It’s extremely important to clean these carefully to avoid damaging them, you can use IPA solution or acetone together with some gentle cotton buds for this.
The heat produced by these machines needs regulating. Water chillers are an effective method of keeping the water temperature down to ensure the tube doesn’t overheat. Therefore, it’s important to keep a close eye on chiller performance and monitor any temperature indication on the chiller display. Every few weeks, locate the filters in the chiller and remove any build-up of material. Use this time to check for water contamination and change if required. Use deionised or distilled water as the impurities in regular water can encourage bacterial growth, clogging piping, protection devices and filters in the water circuit.
Sodium hypochlorite (commonly known as bleach) is corrosive to some metals, such as copper and stainless steel, and should be avoided when maintaining any laser machine or accessory, including chiller units. The chloride ion present in the bleach is an oxidizing agent, and attacks the passive layer on the metal, causing localised damage. Even trace amounts of bleach can cause rust as stainless steel is gradually corroded. This disrupts the functionality of the unit from within. Therefore, bleach should not be used under any circumstances.
The drop in temperature during winter months means your machine needs extra attention and TLC. Please take extra care with your equipment as the seasons change.
Here are a few pointers to effectively maintain your laser throughout winter:
- Ensure the room in which the machine is kept is above 0°C, preferably 5°C.
- Take extra care in rooms susceptible to a plummet in temperature overnight. If you struggle to maintain this temperature, use an approved anti-freeze.
- Use only an approved anti-freeze in the coolant circuit and avoid using coloured automotive coolant, as some formulations can rust coils and damage the seals of the chiller.
If you’re unsure of what to look for, we stock HPC CoolFlow, a non-toxic, laser friendly fluid to assist your machine in these cooler months. It has a proven track record of safety and effectiveness, and a much cheaper option than a new tube!
Use this machine maintenance checklist for reference:
Weekly (10-40 hours approx. depending upon materials)
- Clean lens with Acetone/Alcohol
- Oil runners with light oil
- Clean machine bed
- Check water level
- Visually check mirrors (clean if required)
- Remove debris from machine base
- Oil rise and fall of laser bed
- Clean impeller on fan unit (unless a Fume Filter is fitted)
- Clean mirrors if required
- Check water for contamination (change if required)
- Clean filter in chiller (remove the front panel to access the filter)
As the owner, it is your responsibility to ensure the machine is safe and performing at an optimum. Do not leave the machine operating unattended under any circumstance. Make a habit of looking after your machine, and it will look after you.