Camera recognition

Discover 10 Reasons to Buy a (New) Laser System

Mike Fruciano was the founder of LaserBits and Laser University and brings over 25 years of experience in laser processing and digital printing markets. As the owner of Fruciano Consulting, he provides services for marketing, sales, and training and is a frequent presenter and author on laser and printing technologies. Fruciano can be reached by calling 602-616-4971.

Note: This article appears in the The Guide 2017 of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!

Over the last 30 years, laser systems have become the go-to technology for a wide range of markets, including awards and engraving. But when lasers were new, the market was slow to accept the technology, which is different than today’s market. Laser systems were expensive and often twice the cost of comparable systems today. Materials for laser processing were in limited supply and often results were marginal at best, so justification was a challenge.

Fortunately for everyone, the laser system manufacturers increased the features and capabilities, and materials for laser processing are now optimized for the laser wavelengths and produce outstanding results. Cost justification for a new laser system is now simple math to prove how a laser system can help grow your business in its current market and open up new markets.

Technology advancements happen in a stair-step fashion, and laser technology is no different. About five years ago there was a major jump in laser system technology that had a huge effect on speed and capabilities. If you have an older laser system now may be the time to look at upgrading to take advantage of the increased capabilities in a new system. New to lasers? Take a look at these 10 reasons to jump into this ever-expanding market and see why lasers are hot.

Reason 1: Larger Bed Size Options

A laser system with a larger bed size is no longer a penalty for slower engraving speed. System manufacturers have listened to the market and now offer some super-sized bed sizes. Take advantage of the capabilities of a larger bed size. If your current laser system has a 12-by-24-foot bed size, this super-sized laser system can increase your current engraving capacity by two times or more. If your laser is busy engraving much of the production day, a larger bed will translate into increased production capacity and less overtime.

Increasing the engraving productivity is not the only reason for purchasing a laser system with a larger bed size. Laser cutting is an increasing business opportunity, and many systems have the capacity of handling sheet stock up to 40 inches long. The larger laser bed allows multiple sheets of standard size products that are 12-by-24 inches or the ability to handle one large sheet, opening up markets like sign making. It’s easy to calculate that increased capacity with a larger laser bed size translates into increased profits.

Reason 2: Improved Cutting

Many engraving shops are realizing the profitability of laser cutting for their customers. Wood, acrylic, fabric, plastic, and so much more can be laser cut to a customer’s specifications. Using improved system firmware, software, laser tube design, and beam path optics, laser system manufacturers have made major improvements with the cutting ability of their systems.

Materials that were previously difficult to cut can now be cut cleanly without distortion or melting thanks to improved laser tube pulsing and control features. Achieving that flame-polished edge on acrylic is now easier than ever using improved optics and beam path design that create better beam density and spot size.

Pulsing of the laser tube when cutting is critical, and advances in system software allow the user to control laser pulsing better in tight curves and on complicated vectors. The result of these software advances is reduced or eliminated scorching from too much laser energy in a region and ultimately cleaner cutting overall.

Reason 3: Dual Laser Sources

Metal marking with a laser is still one of the hottest markets around. Using a CO2 laser system for metal marking requires using a metal marking compound like CerMark, which works great but has its limitations due to the thermal bonding process on certain types of metals.

Laser system manufacturers have seen the growth for metal marking and developed the technology to combine a CO2 laser source with a fiber laser source to create the Swiss Army knife of laser systems. These hybrid systems take the same footprint in the shop as a CO2 laser system but offer the capability to mark metals directly using the fiber laser.

So how does it work? Quite seamlessly. The user simply selects the CO2 or fiber laser source in the print driver software by clicking on a box. While it is rare that an engraving shop may find a job that uses both the CO2 and fiber sources together, the real calling for these systems is to allow engraving shops to broaden their market by jumping into the lucrative market for industrial and decorative metal marking. Expanding the market for your business is never a bad idea and often leads to profitable customer relationships.

Reason 4: Camera Registration System

One of the most significant technologies to be added to a laser engraving system is the camera registration system for aligning artwork to the substrate. Currently the process of aligning cutting or engraving to a pre-printed substrate is manual and often labor intensive. The camera registration system allows for registration marks on the pre-printed substrate to be ‘seen’ by the laser system and automatically align the cutting or engraving art.

How does this camera registration system work? Start with a substrate that has been pre-printed, like a design that is printed on acrylic using a UV-LED printer or silk screened. When the design is printed or screened onto the substrate, registration marks are also printed on. These registration marks are critical to the process. Next, print the cut-and-engraving file to the laser and watch the magic begin. Prior to the actual cut-and-engraving process by the laser, the laser will seek out the registration marks on the substrate using the camera and rotate or position the cut-and-engraving file. Results are amazing—even a severely misaligned substrate is cut and engraved perfectly. A camera registration system can be a great asset for increasing productivity.

Reason 5: New Laser-Friendly Materials

Have you seen the long list of new materials for laser processing? Laser processing is not just about wood and acrylic anymore. Of interest are materials for garment decorating and signage.

Interested in expanding your business? Take a good look at the garment decorating market and see all the new materials for making heat transfers to place on garments for a variety of applications including sports uniforms. Laser-safe and easy to work with, heat transfer materials tie in with existing markets for personalized products and are ideal add-on sales.

Already doing signage projects with your laser? Check out your friendly laser material supplier to find an increased range of outdoor UV-stable substrates for exterior signage applications. Don’t forget the new, larger sized sheets of wood and acrylic for those projects that customers love so much.

Reason 6: Laser System Software

Laser system manufacturers have made great strides to make their driver and interface packages more powerful and effective for production. Laser system software now includes many new features for the laser operator to produce more jobs per hour. Software features include archiving and re-running of jobs, material settings libraries, bottom up or top down engraving, and so much more.

One feature in the newer versions of laser system software that I have found powerful is the vector sorting feature. Using the print driver/system software and one click, a graphic that is full of vectors is automatically sorted so the laser system will cut them in the correct order. The vector sorting feature is a huge time saver over manually sorting the vectors to cut in the correct sequence.

Reason 7: Cylindrical and Rotary Attachment

Let’s see what’s new with cylindrical and rotary attachments for laser systems. For starters, they are now much easier to use and set up. What used to be a by-guess and by-golly method for engraving cups, mugs, and round stuff has become a quick set-and-engrave system.

The cylindrical attachment has had a complete makeover in both software and mechanical features to now make it a more practical feature. Software setup is simplified and most of the thinking is handled by the print driver software. One feature I like when setting up a job is to use the red dot pointer to select the center of engraving on a stainless steel mug. The red dot pointer sends the location back to the print driver software and the engraving turns out spot-on without any calculations or thinking.

Mechanically, the cylindrical devices have been designed to handle a wider variety of shapes and weights of round objects. Many of the cylindrical devices are available with outward cones and inward cones to grasp the object and center it in the device.

Industrial engravers no longer have to develop special fixturing for cylindrical devices to hold CNC-machined components. Several manufactures offer a multi-jaw chuck feature on the cylindrical device to clamp onto small tubular objects in the same way a drill bit is held into a drill.

Reason 8: Safety Features

While inherently safe, compact laser systems have become even safer, making an upgrade to a new system valuable. Regulated by the CDRH (Center for Devices and Radiological Health), each laser system manufacturer is legally bound to comply to the design parameters outlined. Many leading laser system manufacturers have raised the safety bar to protect users and business owners from hazards.

One feature I like to have available is the emergency stop switch. This switch sounds pretty basic to have but it adds an extra layer of safety just in case Mr. Murphy and his law prevails. Simple mistakes are quickly eliminated with a touch of the emergency stop switch. After clearing the switch, the laser system automatically resets back to home position.

Another important safety feature that has been incorporated into new laser systems is the clear viewing window is now made of tempered glass. The tempered glass window effectively filters out harmful stray laser energy and is heat resistant. Costly? Yes, but when it comes to increasing the safety of a laser system, these tempered glass windows are an important factor.

Reason 9: Speed

Fast is always better when it comes to production equipment like a laser system. New generation laser systems feature the latest in motor technology. The benefit of the new motors is the increased acceleration. Driving the engraving head of the laser will reduce the run time of engraving and cutting jobs.

But there is more to faster acceleration than just bigger, badder motors. There are other components in the system as well. Faster switching power supplies send the current to the motors more efficiently. Additionally, system firmware is optimized to create an integrated motor system, which effectively increases speed and acceleration, reducing engraving job run times.

Reason 10: Productive Features

Looking for other ways to increase production on your laser system? Consider features like an adjustable exhaust plenum, a lighting system inside the laser, and air/nitrogen assist. These are features that help a laser system owner work more productively.

A lighting system inside the laser helps to more accurately align the products being engraved and cut. A lighting system sounds simple, but not positioning the products inside the laser can lead to poor results and ultimately redoing the job, wasting time and materials.

Do you spend a lot of time cleaning smoke residue off parts that have been laser engraved? An adjustable exhaust plenum helps increase the air flow so little to no cleaning is required. Cleaner engraving is a huge time saver.

New laser systems also have the air assist feature, which not only reduces flaming during cutting but also provides positive air flow over the lens and optics to reduce the need for cleaning. Higher end laser systems also could switch between compressed air and nitrogen by selecting a feature in the print driver software. The inert nature of nitrogen is a huge benefit when laser cutting and often allows cutting speeds to increase due to the efficiency increase of the beam.

More Great Reasons

Whether you are looking at your first or fifth laser system, the latest and greatest technology has many benefits that all create a productive work environment. Some features may seem a little gadget-like in nature but it is often the simple features that make a laser system operator’s job more efficient. I invite you to take the time to see what important capabilities have been included in a new laser systems and how these powerful production tools can increase the profitability of your business.

Note: This article appears in the The Guide 2017 of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!