Laser engraving is a growing method of product identification, decoration and personalization. There are several types including CO2 laser, fiber lasers, YAG lasers and any number of other wavelengths. This article will address the checkpoints for selecting a flatbed CO2 laser engraving system.
First of all it should be known that there are a number of very reputable vendors in the market, any of which can supply you with a good, reliable machine. However there are also some very poor pieces of equipment available also.
CHECK POINT #1 – Know who you are dealing with. Do your homework and research the company’s reputation not only related to the equipment itself but also how they are known to take care of their customers after the machine has been installed. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that there won’t be little issues with the lasers from time to time. How the company deals with service is critical.
Often people choose equipment only on prices and don’t weigh the value or return on investment. For an example if the laser takes two minutes to do a job but you need it done in one minute, regardless of the cost it will take twice your time and resources to complete the project. If you amortize that formula over a given period of time you can calculate what your ROI will be based on a certain number of parts.
CHECK POINT #2 – Consider the cost and what you can afford, but don’t forget about the payback. If you spend $7,000 and the machine can’t do the job, what you have really done is wasted $7,000. Conversely if you spend $14,000 and it can do the job, plus do more than you expect, the machine pays for itself in short order.
Flatbed lasers come in a myriad of different configurations. You can choose from engraving area, laser power (referred to as wattage), air cooled versus water cooled, linear marking speeds and many other smaller but critical decision points. Consider your application carefully when making your decision.
CHECKPOINT #3 – Make sure the laser is capable of what you are planning to do now AND what you might do in a year. If your budget allows that you can afford the next higher wattage machine or the larger engraving area make that commitment. None of us go in to business to not grow. We all expect increased business, so try to position yourself to take advantage of that, when the opportunity arises.
Consider the environment where the laser will operate when making your decision on a laser engraver. Some material such as acrylic and other plastics, rubber, wood etc…put of smoke, debris and odor that can be pretty bad and in some cases toxic.
CHECKPOINT #4 – Select a company/machine that has a range of exhaust systems to choose from. Consider that there could even be local EPA regulations that restrict expelling fumes into the air, and that you may need a self-contained, filtered exhaust system. Plus if you have ever smelled rubber burning you could have some really unhappy neighbors if you don’t capture the fumes.
These types of lasers all output like a printer, with a printer driver package similar to the one on your desk. These packages have varying levels of sophistication and tools that help you optimize the lasing experience.
CHECKPOINT #5 – Make sure you get a demonstration of the printer driver software so you know what you are getting into. The basics should include a simple and straightforward user interface, optimization tools and the ability for the software to be configured for various models of equipment. Most company representatives will be happy to sit down with you and provide a detailed demonstration.
The last thing I will mention has to do with marketing you capabilities. Laser engraving is growing all the time and even though it is a great and fun business to be in, it is competitive. Make sure you understand that you will need to market your services effectively. Have a “go to market” strategy and a solid business plan. Most good sales people in our business can discuss how much to charge, new markets to chase and tricks to make you more efficient.
CHECKPOINT #6 – Go into this purchase with your eyes wide open. Learn everything you can from your sales person, the internet and any other research venue. Draw on the experience of the selected company’s marketing and technical people and above all other things play to win, don’t play not to lose!
In conclusion, if I had to make one overriding statement that would be shop in a systematic fashion and don’t impulse buy. Take the time to make a decision you will be happy with six months down the road.