The increasing popularity of fiber laser cutting machines is being driven by three key criteria. Very often the focus is on the first two, namely running costs specifically electricity, and secondly the increased productivity with cutting times around 5-6 times faster when working with a thin sheet.
However the third key criteria, maintenance should be considered of equal importance. To understand what is involved, we will look at the differences between servicing a CO2 laser and a fiber laser machine.
Servicing a CO2 laser is a big and involved job, often requiring a service engineer to be on site for up to three days at a time.
The reason is that a CO2 laser is a much more technically complex machine, each equipped with between four and six optics. Over time, the nature of the laser process can produce contaminants which then attach themselves to the optics, resulting in the need for cleaning as part of a maintenance process.
The key issue is that, once a mirror is disturbed during the laser maintenance process, it needs to be realigned using a cross-target. Each mirror must be realigned in sequence, which requires technical experience and can be very time-consuming. Any loss of power from the resonator will require going back to check the alignment of each mirror until the non-aligned mirror can be identified and brought into line.
In addition, the service engineer will use a power probe to check the power of the beam and also feedback voltages will be checked.
Once the mirrors and the head have been checked and realigned, the CO2 laser will need its oil checked and drained. This process will take place on both the turbo and the vacuum pump. In addition, the filtration system and compressed air system will both need to be cleaned in order to minimise contamination.
Our laser maintenance advice is that older machines require a service every 12 months or every 2,000 operational hours. Newer CO2 machines can be run with a longer laser maintenance schedule of around 4,000 hours.
However, a word of warning. It is important that shift patterns are taken into account when devising laser maintenance schedules. A laser cutting machine being used 24/7 will need a shorter interval between services and this needs to be factored into both maintenance costs and scheduled laser downtime.
In comparison, laser maintenance for fiber laser machines is much less involved and quicker process. A fiber laser has fewer parts to maintain, which means less time and a lower cost.
For example, a fiber laser has no vacuum pump, no turbo blower and no internal optics that need cleaning. In fact, very often the only servicing that is required is to change the filters.
As a result, the service and inspection time required for fiber lasers is reduced considerably, typically a couple of hours compared to 2-3 days for a CO2 machine.
What’s more, this doesn’t take into account the potential saving on machine downtime. A machine that is down for a couple of hours is clearly going to be more productive than one that is down for 2-3 days.
Again, laser users need to be careful to balance the service intervals based on shift patterns, adjusting intervals for those machines working long operational hours.
Overall, our advice for laser users to take into account the whole life cost of the machine, including laser maintenance costs and machine downtime, not just the initial purchase price.