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CheckMate Lasers   GLASS LASER TUBES vs. METAL LASER TUBES

What's the difference between glass and metal?

In order of typical importance to consumers:

  1. Longevity
  2. Price
  3. Warranty
  4. Operation
  5. Quality
Read on as each topic of importance listed above is explained in easy to understand laymen terms.

LONGEVITY: What's the lifespan of glass vs. metal?
  • Glass laser tubes: approximately 3 years to 4 years
  • Metal laser tubes: approximately 5 years to 7 years

NOTE: The numbers provided by laser tube manufacturers and the laser machine manufacturers that install them run the gamut. Since there is no "clock" in any laser tube on the market, these numbers are speculative, some are shorter, some are longer, that is why the range can be so broad, i.e., 10 thousand to 30 thousand hours or 5-7 years. Purely marketing hype and just a generalization as there are no hard known factual numbers to go by, hence the wide/huge range.

In the humble opinion of CheckMate Lasers we assume that no laser tube manufacturer places a "clock" on their laser tube as then they would be held accountable to that lifespan hype that they are well known to promote. So it there is no clock, then there is absolutely no way to know how long a laser tube operational life truly is. The only way would be the operator to log every single time the laser tube fires during projects, testing, calibration, etc. simply not a practical method to determine actual lifespan.

So although the marketed lifespan of a Glass laser tube vs. Metal laser tube show a significant difference don't let that discourage or dissuade you. Do not pass judgment until you know the facts by reading the next question.

PRICE: What does 3-4 years vs. 5-7 years, really mean?

Ultimately this boils down to cost. Take this “real world” example to compare a 50w metal tube vs. a 50w glass tube and let’s 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 laser 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."”

  1. 1st problem, the laser tube manufacturer would not deal with the customer directly so my customer had to go through me (his salesman), I had to go through the laser machine manufacturer (their dealer) who then dealt with the laser tube manufacturer directly. This only created excessive and unnecessary delays. That in itself was a travesty but we had no choice.
  2. 2nd problem, the repair took 6 weeks to receive back the repaired laser tube. NOT a recharged or brand new metal tube, just a repaired tube. (AND that meant my customer’s laser machine was DOWN for six (6) long, painful, agonizing, non-productive weeks!). That brings us to the
  3. 3rd problem, this was simply a repair, not a recharge. Of course the laser tube manufacturer could have recharged the metal tube but since we could not deal with them directly we never could determine if they indeed recharged the tube or what specifically was repaired. Never could get a definitive answer.
  4. 4th and final but MAJOR problem; COST! As a laser machine salesman/dealer I along with all other laser machine dealers in the industry never declared that sometime in the future there was going to be a major expense that will require a significant money outlay to continue laser operations in the form of the Three R's of Laser Tubes. This was something we as dealers did not think of, did not consider and definitely did not discuss. Problem is customers are never prepared for downtime, never budget the necessary funds, and quite simply never are prepared for the inevitable three R’s.

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:

  • 50w minor repair $2,750
  • 50w major repair $5,720
  • 50w return/replacement $7,150

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.

WARRANTY: What's the warranty length comparison?
  • Typical metal laser tube warranty for one (1) year.
    • Some laser machine manufacturers extend this warranty an additional year to provide a two (2) year warranty on their metal laser tubes.
  • Glass laser tube warranty typically are only a short term, mere 90 days
    • CheckMate Lasers has field proven our glass tubes to average 3-4 year lifespan, so we stand behind our laser tubes for a full two (2) year warranty!

To make this as fair a comparison as possible we'll use the typical warranty provided by most laser machine manufacturers as well as what CheckMate Lasers provides. In addition to that we shall use the low end lifespan of a typical laser tube minimum.

 Tube Type  Warranty  Lifespan  15 Year Term  Warranty coverage
 Metal  2 years  5 years  3 Laser Tubes  40% lifespan coverage
 Glass  2 years  3 year  5 Laser Tubes  66% lifespan coverage

Because both laser tubes provide the same two (2) year warranty there isn't much difference in what a consumer will receive, other than peace of mind if the laser tube has a manufacturer defect. Based on the table above in a 15 year period if a laser tube failed due to manufacturer defects, a metal tube would be replaced 3 times vs. a glass tube replaced 5 times.

FYI, keep in mind that a glass tube is inexpensive enough for the laser machine owner to keep a spare in stock. Metal tubes on the other hand will probably require the machine owner to deal with his dealer who will deal with the machine manufacturer who will then deal with the tube manufacturer. Past experience shows the tube manufacturer will not deal directly with the end user. Read the 3 R's of Laser Tubes to see how a metal tube laser machine could and has been known to be down upwards of 6 weeks, whereas a glass tube machine owner would only be down less than an hour as CheckMate Lasers typically packages a spare laser tube with the most commonly sold laser machines.

Finally, looking at the final column we can clearly see that CheckMate Lasers covers a much longer percentage of the laser tube expected lifespan than metal laser machine manufacturers. Confidence in a manufacturer's product is clearly declared in the length of the warranty term provided.

OPERATION: What's the difference in operation?
  • ALL Glass laser tubes must be water cooled
  • Metal laser tubes up to 120 watts can be air cooled
  • Metal laser tubes 150 watts or higher are ALL water cooled
  • (none of the major laser machine manufacturers offer water-cooled systems below 120 watts any longer!)
  • What's the benefits of water cooled vs. air cooled. Read this: Water vs. Air
QUALITY: What's the difference in laser beam quality?

NONE! Light is light...

Let's compare a laser beam to the well-known common 110V outlet. CheckMate Lasers is based in Las Vegas, NV and we have 110 outlets, so does New York, Seattle, Miami and every other city in between, across the entire United States. 110V is 110V no matter where you go. Have a radio, plug it in, works exactly the same anywhere in the country.

Laser tubes regardless of metal or glass output a highly focused beam of light. This laser light is activated by electrical current either direct (glass) or RF unit (metal). This laser light marks many materials from wood to glass to stone and a mutlitude of other substrates. No matter who manufacturers a 50 watt tube, it is still 50 watts of laser beam power. Because 50 watts of power is 50 watts of power and they all mark material by vaporizing the surface, there is no difference.

Light from a CO2 laser is light from a CO2 laser, no difference at all!


Sidenote: There are additional discussions, such as beam quality (optics addresses this), beam creation method (pulse vs. continuous firing), motion system (servo vs. stepper), etc., that all can affect the quality of final image results. Each laser manufacturer has their special hardware used as well as specific motion system and software image creation methods. When it comes to quality beyond just the beam of light many factors must be considered in the final image output. CheckMate Lasers builds industrial strength hardware to withstand the demands of a harsh environment, continuous operation from single shifts to double even triple shifts, with water chilled glass tubes to withstand the high heat generated from continuous operation to a robust system designed to be user servicable to minimize any potential downtime. CheckMate Lasers believes a high quality laser machine coupled with low cost backed by onsite setup and training as well as extensive after sale support is the perfect recipe for a productive and profitable laser business venture. Contact Us for further discussion and information.

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