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A Real Life Job – Done with Lasers

As an example of how lasers expanded the versatility and profitability of one company, a Canadian medical device manufacturer recently enlisted the help of a laser contract firm to complete a job creating polyester gaskets with adhesive backing. The application required making a small cut feature in the gasket lamination.

The existing manufacturing process used by the company allowed adhesive to flow back into the cut opening, creating unacceptable parts. The laser system used by the contract firm proved to be the only reliable method of processing by providing a cut that both vaporized and sealed the edge. The laser process eliminated the adhesive reflow.

With this success, the company retained the laser contractor to do short production runs. Eventually, the product required production runs up to 100,000 parts per month. The company then found it to be economical to purchase a laser system of their own. Overall, using the laser process enabled the company to get a precision, high quality part quickly and reliably to market.

How to Get Started with Lasers

If your company has been strictly a die cutting operation, you don’t necessarily need to “no quote” jobs that require laser cutting. Here are a few steps to get you started:

Pick a Knowledgeable, Established Supplier - There are many companies that specialize in laser cutting to whom you can sub-contract to enhance your capabilities. As in hiring any subcontractor, it is important to do a little research on the laser job shop’s performance history and equipment capabilities. Places to start looking for a reliable, experienced laser contractor in your area include:

  • Industry networking
  • Internet searches
  • Trade shows
  • Trade journals

Here are some questions that can be asked of a prospective laser contractor:

  1. What platforms are available? Check that they satisfy your manufacturing requirements. For example, can the platform handle flat sheet or roll stock?
  2. What tolerances can be held?
  3. Are samples of cut quality and speed for specific materials available?
  4. What types of digital file formats can be accommodated? For example, which CAD and CNC file types are accepted?

Again, a little research will go a long way. It is important to ask a potential laser contractor about their expertise and equipment in applications similar to your business. Checking a prospective laser job shop’s references about service and response times is also important.

Cost Considerations - At a certain point, the amount of jobs that you choose to bid may reach a volume that will justify the purchase of your own laser system. There are a wide range of costs for laser systems depending upon the complexity of the job needs:

System Type
Cost Range
Applications
Lower Power Systems
$30,000 to $50,000
Sample Production
Standard Commercial Power Systems
$100,000 to $350,000
Non-Metallic Job Production
Special Commercial Systems
$400,000+
Variety of Applications


How to Find or Train Laser Technicians – In many cases, the best place to find a good laser technician is from within your existing group of die cutting operators. Senior employees already have a good sense of overall shop floor practices and typically can be trained to work with the digital files required to process materials with a laser.

However, if you choose to hire a dedicated technician a good starting point would be schools offering laser/electro-optics programs, such as Texas State Technical College Waco, Indian Hills Community College, or Idaho State University, to name a few. Other suitable technical backgrounds to consider are machining and programming.

Laser Resources – A great reference guide about lasers is the Laser Institute of America Guide to Laser Cutting. This book is available through the Laser Institute’s website, laserinstitute.org or by calling 1-800-345-2737. Several periodic journals can also be recommended:

How Much Does It Cost to Run A Laser System?

The laser system uses a variety of support systems based on the type of material being cut. In a typical application not all of the sub-systems are used simultaneously but are presented here for a "worst" case scenario. The example is for a 200 – 400 watt sealed laser, but does not include overhead or depreciation of the system.Main system: Laser System

  • 208 Volt, 3 phase, 45 Amp, consumes ~9KW/Hr. Therefore, electrical for main system is ~$0.60 per hour based on a $0.065 KW cost.
Support systems:
  • Compressed Air (if required): 10 CFH at $0.003/CF. Therefore, compressed air is ~$0.030/Hr cost.
  • Vacuum Blower (if required): 3 HP blower at ~2KW/Hr. Therefore, vacuum blower cost is ~$0.135 per hour based on a $0.065 KW cost.
  • Chiller: 208 Volt, 3 phase, 30 Amp consumes ~6KW/Hr. Therefore, electrical for chiller is ~ $0.40 per hour based on a $0.065 KW cost.
  • Nitrogen (occasionally required): 10 CFH at $0.0072/CF. Therefore, Nitrogen cost is ~ $0.072 per hour.
Labor: (Based on Midwest US production rates)
  • Production Labor at $ 16.00 per hour.
Total Operating Cost:
  • Main System: $0.60 per hour
  • Support systems: $0.637 per hour
  • Production Labor: $16.00 per hour
  • Grand Total: $17.237 per hour

 

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