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THE THREE (3) R's of LASER TUBES
Listen to the Podcast accompanying this article: Season 2, Episode 13: The Three R's of Laser Tubes
This article is to address the unknown, unexpected, unplanned and unbudgeted (is that a word?) factor of laser tubes. Louie Alvarez will be discussing the difference between the well know metal tubes from manufacturers such as Synrad, Coherent, Rofin, GSI, Universal and now Epilog as well as comparison to the newer more affordable glass laser tubes from the likes of Laser Lowdown podcast show sponsor, CheckMate Lasers. The three R's of laser tubes that MUST be taken into consideration are:
Recharge is the least expensive investment for a laser tube. Now this refers ONLY to metal laser tubes as glass laser tubes are not rechargeable but considered to be consumables, hence upon depletion of the CO2 contents a glass tube is simply disposed of and replaced. Not so with metal tubes as the cost of these metal tubes can be in the neighborhood of a few thousand dollars to upwards of $20,000. So owners of these metal tubes will want to get as much lifespan from these units as possible.
So the cost to recharge a metal laser tube can be as little as $1500 to as much as $3500 or more. Disclaimer: I don't keep up on the cost of this recharge prices any longer since I work exclusively with glass tubes now, but needless to say the cost of replacing a 50w tube at $500 vs. a recharge of $1500+ pretty much eliminates any fair comparison. To clarify, a recharge of a metal tube is needed in the neighborhood of 5-7 years and will be done by a leading manufacturer once and depending on age maybe twice. Based on my research it seems the more a metal tube has been recharged the greater the risk of internal components failing, hence requiring extensive repair and or replacement of these internal components. Compare that to a glass tubes that have been field proven to average a life span of 3-4 years means a cost of only $1000 will pay for 6-8 years of service. $1000 is still a much less painful cash outlay than a single recharge of $1500 or more in the same time frame of a metal tube. This cost savings makes the glass laser tube a more appealing option.
Let's move onto repair of a laser tube. Again, this eliminates a glass tube due to the inherent design to treat a glass tube as a consumable product and to simply replace it after its useful lifespan has ended. Due to the excessive cost of a metal tube owners of these types of laser tubes will go the repair route if/when necessary to obtain the longest lifespan possible. Unfortunately the repair cost can be quite excessive as well. Take this "real world" example to compare a 50w metal tube vs. a 50w glass tube and we can put this into perspective. Synrad, Coherent & Universal are the most widely used metal laser tubes in the CO2 cabinet-sized style laser systems. A typical metal tube used daily will need to be recharged in approximately 5-7 years. Let’s use the 5 year life expectancy for this scenario. 50w glass tubes will last approximately 3-4 years and cost $500. Let's use the middle ground of a 5-7 lifespan of a metal tube at 6 years for a fair comparison. Worst case scenario is 2 glass tubes in 6 years at a cost of $1000 whereas metal tubes will need to be recharged at least once in this time period. Granted there are exceptions but we’ll keep this simple for direct comparisons.
Keep this in mind as I describe this "real world scenario" that it IS indeed factual and true. A customer of mine from a previous laser manufacturer I worked with had a 50 watt air-cooled "metal" laser tube of an unnamed laser tube manufacturer go bad. This laser tube had just reached its 5 year "birthday."
Here are the numbers provided by the laser tube manufacturer prior to the work required that had to be approved on this 50 watt air-cooled metal laser tube before they would commence with the needed service work.
Figures provided by laser tube manufacturer:
Customer ultimately paid $3,080 for repairs. We never determined what minor nor major repairs entailed nor what the $3,080 paid for.
Now imagine a repaired metal laser tube in 5 years costing a minimum of $2750 or as in this factual scenario the cost was actually $3,080. Of course the customer could have simply purchased a brand new metal laser tube for $7,150 (not a very viable or affordable option and one never budgeted nor prepared for). Compare $2,750 (minor repair) to $3,080 (actual repair cost) to $7,150 (new metal tube) vs. a glass laser tube over the same 5 year period at only $500 or in our worst case scenario of 2 tubes in 6 years totaling ONLY $1000. Once again this makes the glass tube a much more appealing option.
Compare $2,750 (minor repair) to $3,080 (actual repair cost) to $7,150 (new metal tube) vs. glass laser tubes over the same 5 year period (or in our worst case scenario of 3 tubes in 6 years) totaling ONLY $1200. Once again this pretty much makes the glass tube more appealing.
Well we've already covered the first of the three R's and the glass tube is clearly the winner in the actual real world comparisons. To begin the final and most costly of the three R’s you should know that depending on the wattage, the manufacturer of the laser machine, the size of the laser machine, etc. metal laser tubes can make up anywhere from 30% to as much as 60% the total cost of a laser machine, that said prepare for the cost of what a new, replacement tube could run for a laser machine that runs off of a metal tube.
These are the figures I managed to obtain from a leading metal tube manufacturer in order to compare to glass tube prices. Prices may have gone up or down since this was obtained, but I doubt very much that changes the point of this particular R.
As you can see the cost difference between Metal laser tubes vs. Glass laser tubes is significant. Price difference is as little as $8,200 to as much as $16,450 for the same wattage laser tube. That is a huge amount of cash outlay if a metal tube dies to the point that a recharge or repair will not get it operational again.
The leading metal laser tube manufacturers for the typical cabinet based laser machines has typically been Synrad, Deos and Coherent. Deos was purchased by Coherent and even more recently GSI purchased Synrad, so the choices for metal tubes has diminished to two popular brands, Synrad and Coherent. A number of years ago Universal began manufacturer of their own metal laser tubes in-house and most recently Epilog has also begun to manufacture their own metal laser tubes as well. This simply shows the excessive cost of metal tubes has driven four (4) laser tube manufacturers to merge into 2 manufacturers in addition to the two leading laser machine manufacturers bringing that outsourced product in-house to clamp down on costs, design, turn around, etc.
After looking at the table above and comparing glass tubes to metal tubes the clear winner once again is Glass laser tubes. It’s very difficult to argue the point of a metal tube no matter what perceived benefit there may be or what a salesman will spew out in order to win a deal when it comes to an $8000 or more difference in cost for comparable power wattage output when comparing metal to glass laser tubes. $8000+ is nothing to sneeze at.
So there you have it, the Three R’s of Laser Tubes that no salesman ever revealed until the inevitable time arrived. I hope this educates you on the finer points of the unknown, unexpected, unplanned and unbudgeted three R’s so if you’re looking for a new laser machine or to add another machine to your laser arsenal then as you conduct your research and do your homework, make sure to ask about the three R’s and don’t look at just the initial purchase dollars but the actual long term cost you must prepare for.
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