In Fabricating Machinery, Laser Cutting Machines rank higher than any other process for productivity and Return on Investment (ROI). Whether your Fabricating Shop is a Job Shop or a Captive Source for a internal use, a laser cutting system can be the best investment made as it produces parts very accurately, very quickly and is one of the cheapest overall shape cutting processes available to fabricators. So how do you decide which is the right laser cutting system for your needs?


In this article we focus on the factors that you should focus on when considering adding or upgrading to a laser cutting system.


Price - Price is always an important factor. “How much can I afford to spend?” is a question you should have answered well in advance of beginning your search. Well built, full featured quality systems start under $250,000 and that equates to under 5K per month on a typical purchase to own lease. While you can spend much more on 6kw, 8kw, 10kw and even higher systems the costs become very hard to justify if your parts are 1/2" and under steel. Other features such as linear feeds, combined axis systems etc etc. may look great on a spreadsheet but many of these features simply increase the cost of the system without providing tangible benefits to the buyer across the shop floor (It's easy to run a weeks worth of production in one day and have your 750K laser system sitting idle for a week while your press brakes and welders play catch up). 


Capacity - Overall cutting capacity (sheet size) can vary on different machines from 40” X 20” all the way up to 10’ X 40’ and everything in between. The sheet capacity of the Laser Cutting System you choose should reflect what parts you typically have in your shop (Hint: 80% of machine on the market today are the 5’ X 10’ capacity). Obviously the larger the system you choose the larger the investment costs will be (and the more floor space required). Adversely your operating costs should stay relatively stable on a like powered system whether its a 5’ X 5’ or 5’ X 10’ variant.


Power - In a recent article (linked here) we wrote about “Why the Kilowatt is not the King” specifically regarding fiber laser cutting capacities. There are many misperceptions about the power you actually need in a laser cutting system. Discuss with your vendor the correct power you need for your work with a knowledge of the more power you buy, the higher the investment, operation and maintenance costs will be also (Note: Currently we are seeing a very “sweet spot” in laser cutting with the 2KW Solid State Fiber Laser.  It just seems to cover the broadest range of needs at a very attractive value price point). What's most important is to buy the power you only need, NOT the power your salesmen is selling as Fiber Lasers (especially those running the IPG Solid State resonator) are more potent as well as easily upgradeable in the field.


Automation - One of the best features about laser cutting systems is their ease and ability to automate. Most every system today comes standard with a pallet shuttle system which will exchange the sheet from within the work zone with a fresh sheet of material from the loading zone. This allows the Laser Machine to continue cutting while the operator attends to part unloading, scrap removal and loading of a fresh sheet of material for the next operation.  Further enhancements to automation can include towers of material ready to process that are fed into the machine through a shuttling and loading system. These forms of automation can put your investment on a 3 shift plan when serious production cutting is necessary. Most of these options are field upgradeable, so don’t insist on getting all the automation with the initial purchase unless you know you will need it from Day 1.

Summary:

  • Price - Set your budget early and stick to it.
  • Capacity - Choose for the sheet capacity you need, not only the capacity you dream about.
  • Power - Buy the Power you need NOT The power your salesman is selling you up to.
  • Automation - Buy the Automation you need now but understand what you can upgrade to later as well.

At Southern Fab we too understand both CO2 and Fiber laser cutting systems. We can help you make the right choice for your shop from our vast selection of New and Used options. Call us today at 813-444-4555 for more information on how a Laser Cutting System can help you make the step up!

Like this post? You’ll also enjoy:
Waterjets to Laser Cutting - Taking the Step
Fiber Lasers - Why the Kilowatt is not the King
Tips to Finding the Right Laser Cutting Machine

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