Laser Expertise was founded in 1984 and was one of the first commercial laser job shops

numbers of similar items. As a job shop, quite often your machines will be changing jobs every hour or so, and so organising the automation of your ‘lights out’ operation is going to be very difficult. Even if you do manage it, you’ll have to bring in extra personnel the next morning to unload all the jobs that have been completed during the night. In my view ‘lights out’ automation for a job shop is extremely complicated to run compared with just paying a couple of night shift operators.

Check the warranty When selecting a new cutting system an important aspect you should consider is the warranty length of the laser. This is because fibre lasers (despite requiring a relatively low amount of maintenance compared to their CO2

predecessors due to

having no moving parts) can be very expensive to repair when they break down. This expense led to problems in the past when the warranties of fibre lasers were only one or two years in length, so the manufacturers of these machines have started to put five-year warranties on their lasers. This has proved very

“I wouldn’t worry too much about investing in the highest power fibre lasers available…I’d recommend focusing on the 4-8kW range of power”

effective because after about five years you’ll be thinking about buying a replacement machine anyway. It’s worth adding that generally it’s only the laser itself that has the five-year warranty – the rest of the cutting machine will only have a warranty for one or two years. This isn’t much cause for concern however, as the costs of repairing the mechanical elements of a cutting machine are usually only a fraction of the repair cost of the laser. Because of the expensive

repair costs of fibre lasers I would generally not recommend buying one second-hand, as doing so would often only give you a six-month to one-year warranty, and might lead to all sorts of unknown costs and


large repair bills further down the line. You never want to be at the mercy of breakdowns, and you don’t want to be running the expense of them either. Having said that, our first cutting machine at Laser Expertise (in 1984) was in fact a second-hand system that had to be rebuilt before we could use it – the previous owner had attacked it with an axe after he invested all his money in it and then a hardware error led to it cutting all his finished parts in half!

Getting the most out of maintenance The two main players for laser cutting machines in the UK are Bystronic (who use IPG lasers) and Trumpf (the Trumpf machine uses a disk laser rather than a fibre laser – but from a cutting point of view the technology is similar). There are other companies selling them, however these two firms in particular have large teams of maintenance engineers on hand, which of course will help you minimise your downtime. Whichever firm you choose, maintaining a good relationship with your laser supplier is important for when it comes to scheduling

maintenance or repairs. How well these suppliers perform on the maintenance side is a topic we often discuss within the AILU job shop group. Each year a survey is carried out based on the speed, reliability and expertise of the firms’ callout response, the availability and cost of replacement parts, their cost per hour of maintenance, the specialist phone support they provide and our overall satisfaction with them. The results of this year’s survey will be revealed on 3 October, when AILU is holding its Annual Job Shop Laser Business Meeting.

Outsource jobs you can’t do While the final CO2

laser system

in our job shop is still used to cut metals, it’s well-suited to non-metal jobs involving plastics and wood – which make up around two to five per cent of the work we receive. Once the system reaches the end of its life and we’ll probably replace it with a fibre laser, then we’ll then start hunting around

for those who do still have CO2 lasers so we can outsource our plastic jobs to them. That way we will be able to keep our non- metal customers without the hassle of having to maintain a high-power CO2

laser. l

John Powell co-founded Laser Expertise in 1984. He is the author of three books on laser cutting and is the most recent recipient of the AILU award, which was presented to him at ILAS 2019, recognising him as an individual who has made an outstanding lifetime contribution to the industrial use of lasers in the UK. John ‘wrote the book’ on laser cutting and established one of the first commercial laser job shops after studying at Imperial College under Professor William Steen (interviewed on page 34). John also was an instrumental founder member of AILU and pulled together the UK job shop community by establishing the AILU job shop group.


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