Lasers. Know What You Are Getting In To.

I have written about this before but it seems there is an explosion of laser owners who spend big money on a gigantic CO2 laser machine and then are never able to produce anything with it.  The frustration level is generally pretty high and then after declaring the machine to be garbage they then want 95% of retail price to sell it.

It is both fun, and sad to watch.  After playing with lasers for a couple of years, here are my updated thoughts on the dilemma that plagues many new users.

There are some incredible artists out there with exceptional abilities to produce imaginative products.  Products that they assume will make them rich.  So they invest thousands in a CO2 laser.  Here are some of the things they quickly find out:

  • The lasers are made in China, with all the quality tech support you have come to expect from China.
  • A laser is a SYSTEM which consists of Power Supplies, Electronic Controllers, safety switches, fans, motors, water cooling systems, a HIGH POWERED laser with a precision alignment series of mirrors in which the beam must be aligned horizontally AND vertically.  Throw in a laser dot pointer, and a water chiller, and an air assist system, and you have a device that requires several vocational skills to maintain.  Oh, and they can be networked as well.  You might need some minor computing skills.
  • Machines like this WILL BREAK.  It is not “if”.  It is “when”.  CO2 laser tubes have a finite life span and will have to be replaced and re-aligned.  There is no getting around that.
  • If the machine is vital to your production and any down time will affect your BUSINESS AND CUSTOMERS you absolutely, positively MUST MAINTAIN SPARE PARTS and possess the ability, or know someone with the ability to repair the machine.  Or own a back up machine.

I would never knock anyone for not possessing the ability to troubleshoot electronic devices.  If you haven’t been trained in that vocation you don’t have the skills to do it ………that is nothing to be ashamed of.   And you sure can’t troubleshoot electronics if you don’t own a multi-meter and other electronic tools.  There is more to it, than just buying a laser.

Fortunately there are user groups and forums with people willing to help.  Some of those people make amazing YouTube videos and teach online training classes and discussions for free.  So there is hope.

But know this.  One day you’ll turn your machine on and it won’t work.  Despite the fact you spent THOUSANDS on the machine, no one from the company will come to your house and fix the problem.  In fact, more than likely you’ll email the company and they will respond in the middle of the night, because they are in China, and you will have one email exchange with them PER DAY, if you are lucky.  I’ve seen this more times than I can count.

If you buy one of these lasers from China ……….. You are largely on your own.  Heck, I have seen people receive new machines with a broken laser tube and the company will offer them 75% of the cost of a new tube and tell them to order it from somewhere else because they don’t any more in stock.  Then the angry negotiations begin.  Then you see the forum posts where people are extremely upset and declare they have orders WHICH MUST BE FULFILLED! Or else they will lose a lot of income, and by golly it isn’t their fault the machine is crap!

I guess what I’m ultimately saying is that if you buy a laser for business then you need a BUSINESS STRATEGY.   If you are an entrepreneur with a liberal arts or physical education degree and buy a complex electronics device that your business is 100% dependent on……… better have a strategy for what to do when it breaks.

“I’m going to buy an expensive machine and make a lot of money” is NOT a business strategy or something you’d write in your prospectus.  Treat your business like a business, and not like a hobby.  Research things like “Mean Time Between Failure”.  Maintain spare parts on hand.  Locate a reliable source for buying spare parts.

Also know that you are in the midst of a Global Supply Shortage of all manner of parts as well.  You might not be able to get a power supply or water flow sensor overnight.  Or even in a week.  A laser tube will go bad on the shelf.  You’ll either need to buy one on a regular schedule, say every 2 years, or find a source of quick delivery.  And always remember that a laser tube is a long, and very fragile tube, made of glass.  You may have to factor in shipping damage and return times.

Lastly, make friends with a competitor.  Strike some kind of deal to help each other when disaster occurs.  Or find someone who can produce your parts while your production is halted.  Yeah, it may cost a few bucks but you won’t lose your customers.

It’s tough to watch someone full of excitement at getting a new laser and then seeing that same person throw in the towel a few months later.   Before you hit that “BUY NOW” button just make sure you’ve thought some of this stuff through.  And know that there are people in the user groups and forums who are tickled to help you work through your problems.


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