Since Apple debuted the iPhone in June 2007, the company has sold more than 800 million units. Each one represented a mobile-experience upgrade for its new owner, and the buzz generated from every sale inspired more consumers around the globe to follow suit. And did they ever!
In a similar – albeit smaller – fashion, fiber is generating a huge amount of interest in the metals fabricating industry. As positive word of mouth travels, more and more business owners are considering bringing the new technology in-house.
For fabricators that are contemplating an upgrade to fiber, the options are vast. From OEMs to power levels to bells and whistles, there’s a lot to consider. The price tag is also a major contributing factor. To help in the endeavor, Shop Floor Lasers spoke to various laser manufacturers to discuss the options for upgrade.
Play it again
When the price tag is a factor – and often it is – there’s the option to trade in an existing laser for a new fiber laser. Similar to the trade-in programs cellular providers offer that allow consumers to upgrade last year’s model for a shiny new one, many laser OEMs offer the same.
In fact, long before fiber become an everyday word in the manufacturing industry, MC Machinery, a division of Mitsubishi Corp., was providing an avenue for its customers to trade in their existing lasers for new machines. Its Encore Laser program was launched in mid-2003 and was based on a long-standing trade-in program the company had established for its line of EDM equipment.
When a Mitsubishi laser is traded in, customers that provide preventive maintenance information showing the machine has been well maintained receive the highest trade-in values. Knowing the level of care the machine has received helps in terms of giving it a trade-in value, which customers can then put toward the payment of a new machine. With this setup, oftentimes there is no capital gains tax involved in the sale of the old equipment, a large benefit for business owners.
After a laser has been sold back to the company, the equipment is shipped to a Greensboro, N.C., rebuild facility. The rebuild facility is housed at Advanced Technology Sales and Service, an official MC Machinery partner and dealer. Since initiating the laser side of the program, MC Machinery has refurbished 20 to 30 machines annually on average.
“ATS takes the machines and disassembles and refurbishes them to as close to factory specs as possible,” says Lou Clifford, vice president of MC Machinery’s Encore Laser program. “From there, we run the same accuracy tests to certify the machines – just like what’s done at the factory when they’re brand new. Once it’s gone through that process, it can be considered a certified pre-owned machine. And then, through the same sales network as our new equipment, we’re able to offer these machines back to the public.”
MC Machinery sells its refurbished Encore lasers to a diverse customer market, ranging from Fortune 500 companies looking to add capacity to first-time users looking to break into the laser fabrication business. Just like customers that buy a new Mitsubishi laser, Encore customers receive a factory warranty, installation and training.
“They get the same benefits that a brand-new customer would get with our service and application support,” Clifford explains, adding that Encore customers can also call in with troubleshooting issues that they may have. “Unlimited phone support is included with a purchase. You can call any time and not just if the machine fails. As an example, customers can call to ask for advice on what settings to use when cutting a certain type of material and a certain thickness.”
MC Machinery’s Encore Laser program was launched in mid-2003 and was based on the company’s long-standing trade-in program established for its line of EDM equipment.
For anyone in the fabricating business, one of the biggest risks with buying a used machine is the potential for having to sink more money into it. Once it arrives on a shop floor, it, essentially, is a permanent fixture. If it doesn’t start up or isn’t working properly, it could take an unknown amount of money and resources to remedy the situation. Clifford says, however, that the Encore program eliminates that risk.
“A laser from the Encore program is the lowest risk used machine that you’re going to get anywhere on the market because you’re buying a certified machine,” he explains. “If it doesn’t start up, it’s not your problem. All of our pre-owned lasers come with a warranty, which means that a faulty machine becomes our problem.”
But faulty machines are rare. Over the 13 years that the Encore program has been in place, MC Machinery and its partner, ATS, have become quite good at bringing a laser back to factory specs.
“One of the reasons that Mitsubishi lasers are so well-suited for refurbishment is the low cost to rebuild the resonator,” says Clifford. “Some of our competitors can’t cost-effectively rebuild their resonators – they have to replace them. The design of our resonator allows for a very reasonable cost to rebuild. In fact, you can rebuild it right on the shop floor.”
Typically, Encore customers will keep a refurbished laser on their floor for two or three years. Clifford goes on to say that often times, those customers will then be ready for an upgrade – a boon for both the customer and MC Machinery.
“It’s a growth path,” Clifford says. “It helps us grow the smaller mom-and-pop shops into brand-new machine users and therefore, bigger, more profitable businesses. It provides a great avenue for them to get into the laser business without the risk of buying a used machine with no warranty.”
As far as risks are concerned, the Encore team at MC Machinery keeps a close eye on the residual values of CO2. Despite the popularity of fiber machines, Clifford says that there’s still a place for CO2 equipment on the shop floor. This is especially true for shops that need to cut thicker stainless steel parts that require a smooth edge-quality finish. Fiber technology has not been able to match the edge quality of CO2 in the thicker stainless.
“Fiber laser technology is still new, so the price for a new machine can be very expensive,” Clifford says. “That can make it hard for a startup company to get in the game and be competitive. But whether it’s a fiber laser or a CO2 laser, the Mitsubishi laser will hold a very high residual value.”
MC Machinery sells its refurbished Encore lasers to a diverse customer market, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to first-time users.
For fabricators that leverage Bystronic equipment, there’s a trade-in program for them, as well. Dubbed the Bystronic Renaissance Group, the program gives Bystronic users a chance to more easily bring fiber to their shop. It was initially developed to give them the opportunity to upgrade any of their Bystronic equipment to the latest innovations that Bystronic consistently brings to the metal fabrication industry – not just their fiber innovations.
The program takes into consideration customers that need additional capacity but might not have the floor space. It also helps fabricators that might have a limited budget by taking their older equipment in on trade.
“Supporting our customers is the No. 1 priority at Bystronic,” says Jim Johnson, manager of the Renaissance Group for Bystronic, “and support includes not only sales, financing, service and training, but also a full customer trade-in, trade-up program. The program is for those customers looking to upgrade for the purpose of running a more efficient shop or to expand their fabricating capabilities to better meet the needs of their customers.”
To ensure that participants in the Renaissance program can gain the benefits delivered by new processing technologies, Bystronic’s pre-owned machines go through a 100-point inspection. This includes ensuring that the resonator, turbo, electronics, control, drive system and more are ready to be put to work.
To guarantee this, machines are installed and operators are trained by a Bystronic service engineer – just as they are with brand-new machine purchases. Also like their brand-new counterparts, Renaissance machines come with a warranty and Bystronic-developed programming software.
Johnson says that when a Bystronic customer is considering the move to fiber, Bystronic is there to help. The Renaissance Group’s team members can manage all of the details of the trade-in program, including financing and service and support.
The Bystar 3015 6-kW laser is a good example of equipment available through Bystronic’s Renaissance program.
Sticking with CO2
As Clifford from MC Machinery noted, it would be a disservice to fabricators and manufacturers to not mention the fact that fiber and CO2 can be complementary technologies. John Prevish, sales manager at Cincinnati Inc., a long-standing U.S.-based laser manufacturer, agrees. If the space and capital is available, it would be ideal to have both on the shop floor as opposed to ditching CO2 for fiber.
“There are a lot of misnomers out there about CO2,” says Prevish. “Everyone is heralding the low maintenance and fast cutting speeds in thin materials for fiber, but to realize these benefits, you have to pay a premium. CO2 lasers have a reputation for being high maintenance, but that reputation should only be attached to much older CO2 models. The new ones are much better today.”
The reality of the situation is that not only do modern CO2 machines require minimal maintenance, but they are also better suited for thicker materials. To handle anything over 1/2-in.-thick material, the cost for fiber will be high – all the while, CO2 can easily handle those thicknesses, producing good edge quality at a lower price point.
“At the end of the day, if you’re investing in a laser – be it CO2 or fiber – you’re doing a good thing for your company,” Prevish says. “It’s important, though, to invest in what your material mix dictates. It’s also important to understand that a laser can only travel as fast as the drive system allows.”
Prevish says that a ballscrew or rack-and-pinion laser system can limit the cutting speeds associated with fiber technology. He continues, however, saying that all of Cincinnati’s lasers, whether they’re CO2 or fiber are based on a linear motor drive system.
“From the drive system standpoint, a mechanical to linear motor is a big jump and a big benefit,” he says, adding that, “through Cincinnati’s wide sales network, if a customer is still interested in trading in a CO2 for a fiber, we can help them with that. If we absolutely can’t find a buyer, we’ll introduce them to a trusted dealer who can help.”
Throughout the laser industry, the consensus still remains: Although fiber is truly a revolutionary technology, there are still plenty of applications where a CO2 performs well. So whether fabricators are planning to replace their CO2s with fiber or utilize both, it all comes down to the fabricators’ specific material mixes and customer needs. No matter the case, the options are virtually unlimited.
“Assuming the customer has the space, we often see the addition of a fiber machine rather than a replacement of a CO2,” confirms Brett Thompson, sales engineer at Trumpf Inc. “However, Trumpf customers who purchase any laser with BrightLine fiber have a single machine that is ideal for all sheet metal applications. CO2 lasers absolutely still have a purpose, just not so much in sheet metal fabrication.”
The Bystronic Renaissance Group gives customers a chance to more easily bring fiber into their shop.
When the resources and space are available, Thompson says that Trumpf’s new customers – or at least customers new to laser cutting in general – tend to buy the company’s TruLaser fiber machines because they’re more simplistic to own and operate. For those who don’t have the resources or space, often they’re able to work with a dealer to sell their old machine. “Trumpf machines hold value well so that tends not to be a problem,” Thompson adds.
Either way, when considering a new investment in laser technology, it’s always advised to work with a trusted OEM or dealer.