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WATER COOLED vs. AIR COOLED
Laser tubes generate a tremendous amount of heat and the higher the wattage the more heat generated. Laser tube manufacturers in the small cabinet category ALL require the laser machine manufacturer to devise a cooling method for the laser tube to prevent damage to the laser tube. The two methods commonly used are water-cooled and air-cooled.
All CheckMate laser systems are water cooled. Water cooled is far superior to air cooled as the air cooling method can only be as cool as the surrounding/ambient air. Also air cooled laser systems require a number of "fans" to "pull" the laser generated heat away from the laser tube. The higher the wattage the more fans required to pull this hot air away from the laser tube, making for an extremely loud fan cooling system. Water cooled ensures the laser tube maintains a consistent steady temperature and is much quieter as fans are not essential to the safe operation of the laser system.A quick laser tutorial:
Laser tubes operate by pulsing/throbbing the "light" energy, it is never a consistent stream of "light", such as what you would see an LED red diode laser pointer a seminar speaker would use, but instead a pulse or throbbing output of energy.
When laser engraving an image the pulse is never consistently on as the image being laser engraved determines how often the beam needs to fire. Hence the laser beam is not required to pulse constantly on a raster engraved image. Where you will see a close to constant firing is in a large engraved area, such as a large white square, many laser tubes will laser engrave an image that produces banding. This looks like horizontal bars across the wide white area (darker than the surrounding area), usually in 1/4" to 2" height in size, in evenly spaced distances from each other. This makes for an unacceptable, unsaleable product. This phenomenon is created by various conditions, such as, type of laser tube (metal tubes are notorious for this phenomenon), heat buildup, power output, motion system, size of the engraved area, etc. but primarily caused by the laser tube's method of energy output, i.e., pulsing.
Even more important is when cutting with a laser system, this is because now the laser beam must attempt to simulate an LED red diode laser pointer by attempting to pulse as many times as possible to simulate the "always on" firing method. This is called PPI (Pulses Per Inch). The tube still only pulses, but when cutting materials you want the pulsing action to be as often as possible, thereby simulating "always on". This allows for quick and clean cutting, leaving a clean smooth edge without a lot of residue from burning the material instead of cutting it.
Now when cutting, the cooling method is even more essential because the laser tube is working overtime, it basically is working at its hardest when cutting as the beam nearly never turns off, unlike engraving where the tube only fires when there is a dot to be created, so it is on/off many times. Cutting is where you see the greatest benefit to water cooling, especially when the temperature gets excessive, say 80+ degrees. Then you begin to see anomalies in the laser engraved image because the laser tube is overheating and that affects the laser beam output, hence banding, quality, etc.Why does the industry no longer use water cooling?
The simple, short answer; COST & competitive pressure!
Long winded answer; Back in the early days of the laser industry many laser machines in the 50 watt or higher wattage range utilized water chillers. Due to the $3500-$5000+ cost (for water chillers) adding to the overall (already expensive) cost of the laser systems and the fact that laser machine buyers continually wanted the best price possible each laser machine manufacturer began phasing out water chilled systems. Hence competitive pressures forced all the laser machine manufacturers to move away from Water Cooling to Air Cooling to reduce to overall cost of laser machine costs. Bad decision for the customer.
To prove the point high wattage systems in the 150 watt range and higher wattage laser machines ALL utilize water chillers, some chillers can be as large as a typical living room. Without this cooling method these systems could not operate properly, would produce poor cutting quality and laser tubes would burn out, causing millions of dollars in lost revenue and repair costs. So why do manufacturers not at least offer a water cooled option for their lasers? An excellent question to contemplate, especially now that water chillers have dropped down below the magical $1000 mark.Is piped water required to operate a water cooled laser?
Not at all, the water pump, water circulator or water chiller are self-circulating water systems, no piped in water required. All that is required is clean distilled water to flow through the chiller and laser tube. Other water(s) tend to have minerals and such that could eventually degrade the metallic components of the water chiller as well as the laser tube itself.
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