Laser cutters have evolved from prototyping tools to highly-productive finishing systems. Read on to learn about developments in lasers, control software, and other facets of the technology that make laser cutting systems a viable option for any shop currently using conventional, tool-based cutting machines.
By Markus Klemm
Suggestions for sourcing laser cutters
To begin sourcing the best laser cutting technology for your operation, you must first determine your application requirements in terms of the complexity of geometries to be cut, production rates required, sheet versus web handling, and the type of materials to be cut. It’s generally wise to contact several manufacturers that build laser cutting systems to request that samples be run on your materials using a few of your part configurations. The manufacturers should then be able to recommend laser cutter models that will be correct for cutting your parts from your materials.
Of course, it is very important to ensure that these manufacturers are equally adept at creating lower-priced laser cutting systems and more sophisticated technology such that they can deliver the best solutions and price. If a laser cutting system integrator is married to particular components (lasers, scan heads, etc.) consider it a red flag that they are not set up to match laser technology to real application requirements.
After receiving your cut samples from the laser cutter manufacturers and receiving their recommendations for suitable laser cutter models, request a personal visit to the manufacturers that interest you to see the actual cutting of your parts and materials. If you spend one day with a manufacturer, you should be able to get a good feel for the degree of difficulty cutting your parts entails. A visit also provides an excellent opportunity to see their plant, to meet the people who you might be dealing with in the future, and to analyze the ease of use with which artwork can be imported to the laser cutter and converted into a useable cutting path.
As with any equipment purchase, it’s also advisable to determine the extent of service support that is available from each manufacturer, as this can make the difference between a relatively short period and a much longer period of downtime in the future. Better quality laser cutters, both low-priced and high-end, include complete remote diagnostic capabilities.
The best case scenario of comparative shopping would also include use of laser cutting system manufacturers’ contract manufacturing services. These would provide not only proof of concept but would allow expert software integrators to fine tune operations to your exact application requirements.
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Markus Klemm is R&D software engineer for Spartanics (www.spartanics.com), which engineers and manufactures a range of automated equipment for laser cutting, die cutting, screen printing, card punching, counting, and inspection used by global label manufacturers, converters, printers, card manufacturers, among others finishing flat stock material. Headquartered in Chicago, IL, Spartanics also maintains offices and offers equipment support in Europe. The company can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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