PDA

View Full Version : The Future of the Laser Engraving Industry



Steve Clarkson
03-27-2013, 10:25 AM
With all the newest technology, I'm thinking that it looks pretty dim.

Between the latest advances in UV printing technology (http://www.rolanddga.com/products/printers/lef/) and CNC cutters and 3D printing, what can a laser really do better, faster or cheaper?

Pens, nametags, nameplates, acrylic awards all look better with full color graphics and can probably be made faster and cheaper with a UV printer.

Is there one product or process that the laser makes/does that will not be replaced within the next 5-10 years? I can't really think of one.

What do you think? Where do you see this technology going in the next 5 years.....or 10 years?

Mike Null
03-27-2013, 10:38 AM
I'm about 180 degrees opposite you on this topic.

Steve Clarkson
03-27-2013, 10:42 AM
I was hoping to start a conversation about it Mike.......can you elaborate?

Bill Gailey
03-27-2013, 10:56 AM
I don't often post but read the forum most everyday. A little background. I bought my first laser in February 1982, an 80 watt engraver from Laser Machining in Somerset, WI. Since then I have owned 3 different Epilogs, nothing ever less than 100 watts and currently a 120 watt with a 24x36 table. When I started 30 years ago all we could laser was wood plaques, acrylic, stone and glass. I have watched the supplier side of the industry create literally thousands of new laserable products. I never looked at the laser as "what" I was selling but rather as one of the methods I used in creating products for my customers. I have engraved and sold at wholesale to the awards industry, supplier to ad specialty companies and at retail. I think as long as we continue to develop creative products and ideas we don't have to worry about the laser becoming obsolete. During those years I have owned other engravers, cnc routers, sublimation, screen printing, Magic Touch and jsut about everything in between. It still comes down to I have to design a product that best serves my customers needs. They frankly don't care how it is produced, what equipment is used, etc. as long as it makes them look good to the recipient. I will be 65 next month and I am more excited about the laser industry today than anytime in the past 30 years, except for the day my first system arrived. The only way lasers will become obsolete in our lifetimes is we stop thinking and designing creative solutions for our customers. Everyday I find another idea on the forum that allows me to create something I have never made before and that leads me to completely new possibilities for my customers.

Mike Null
03-27-2013, 11:06 AM
Steve

I don't agree with your premise. Pad printers were used for pens before lasers came along and they are still in use. CNC machines are not new and mechanical engraving machines are still useful and even similar to CNC machines. 3D printing and UV printing both have limitations. Acrylic may look better in color but that's not my opinion.

None of the devices you've identified as replacing the laser is better or faster for many wood applications. None handle anodized aluminum as well as the laser.

And industry has been using engraved signs, labels etc. for more years than I can remember. Generally the laser does them better and faster than other machines though some will say they can make them faster with a rotary engraver.

Even at my age I have the idea of a new and more powerful laser in the back of my head. BTW, my business is up more than 50% already this year with strong orders for April and May. I think the future is very bright for the laser engraving business.

I see that Bill has posted while I was writing---I'm 76 and considering a new machine--Trotec naturally. (I just bought a card printer last week.)

Martin Boekers
03-27-2013, 11:09 AM
UV printers are still expensive! Plus there are more environmental things you have to deal with. Pens can be lazered quickly UV Printers
are tougher set ups for one ups etc. People still like things engraved and not everything necessarily printed. Folks said the same about
vinyl cutters, I still cut letters.

Lasers cut acrylics and wood a UV printer doesn't.

Will our work and finding business get more challanging? I would say yes!

I see lasers getting cheaper and cheaper, but I see quality of machine
getting sacrificed for pricing.

The issue I see is how we approach the business, we have to be more efficient, provide better customer
service. The industry of nametags and plates will no longer bring in profits. We will have to become
more adaptable and find solutions. This is not the first industry that will change and evolve. Look at photography
even in this digital age people still want prints. I guess I look at things a bit different, I get excited about the
technology and evolution! Here is an old story that an associate shared with me about 2 shoe salesmen......

Two shoe salesmen went out to find new business for shoes, in their journey the both ended up in Africa (an untapped market)
The first salesman expressed his frustration, calling his company saying send a plane for me this will never work, no one wears
shoes here.....

The second salesman was all excited and immediately phone his company and said send more shoes, lots of them.......no one
wears shoes here, this is an untapped market!........

A little simplistic, but it shares some valid points on how we approach things.

Mike Null
03-27-2013, 11:24 AM
Martin

Please keep telling everybody that name tags and plates won't be profitable.:D

Tim Bateson
03-27-2013, 11:36 AM
Martin
Please keep telling everybody that name tags and plates won't be profitable.:D

Ditto!!!! :D

Ernie Balch
03-27-2013, 11:48 AM
I bought a laser a 1.5 years ago and have not done any advertising other than word of mouth. I am finding that once someone sees what a laser can do they immediately come up with projects for me to do. Every week I am told of another opportunity that I should follow up on.

Gary Hair
03-27-2013, 12:07 PM
Martin

Please keep telling everybody that name tags and plates won't be profitable.:D

and that Cermark is too difficult...

Joe Hillmann
03-27-2013, 12:25 PM
Steve,
Printers/copiers used to cost many thousands of dollars and no one had one at home. If you wanted something printed or copied you had to go to a print shop. Now for less than $100 you can get a printer/copier/scanner and nearly every home with a computer has one. Now you only need to go to a print shop for large volume or large size printing jobs.

I wonder if with Chinese desktop laser prices getting lower and lower if the laser engraving industry is heading in the same direction. I think in general that may be the case but if you are in any type of specialized market you don't really need to worry too much about it.

Also there is also something new being done with lasers all the time. On this forum alone nearly every week or so something pops up that is totally new to nearly everyone here. Like last week ,the plastic folding with the laser, nobody here had ever seen anything like it before. I know for sure there are people now playing with the idea and maybe in a few weeks they will show some awesome product they can make using that method. It would be hard to see how a CNC or sublimation would be able to come at all close to that.

Also as with any tool there are thousands of markets for what you can produce. You just have to find one that you enjoy and figure out how to make money with it. A few years ago had you told me people could make a living making pieces an terrain for war games I would have thought there was no way the market is big enough. But do a search for laser cut games and you will get hundred maybe thousands of results that are terrain and pieces for war games. Look at how much success Walt has had in the last 6 months or so.

Had you told me how large the market for laser cut dollhouse and furniture was I wouldn't have believed you but this month nearly 1/2 my income was from selling dollhouse kit. And I haven't even started marketing them yet. All my business has been from word of mouth. I don't know how the word got out because when I sold the first ones I didn't even have them on display in my store yet.

In my experience it is much easier to sell a product then to sell a process. I used to advertise custom engraving in my slow time and would only get a job or two a month (in addition to engraving cake pans that is the heart of my business) Now instead I make and sell products and during my slow times they way outsell the cakepans.

Steve Clarkson
03-27-2013, 12:26 PM
Don't confuse my question about the future of lasers with the future of the business or industry that most people on here are in.

Most people on this forum are either in the sign making or awards/trophy industry. People will always need signs and plaques/trophies/awards. And good operators (like Mike) will almost always see increases in their business because they have great customer service and produce quality products.

But would a customer prefer to buy an $8 two color engraved nametag or a $4 UV printed nametag with a four color logo?

UV Inks can and will get better.....printing a four color logo on stainless steel that is weather resistent will be able to be made cheaper and faster than using Cermark on stainless steel.

Martin Boekers
03-27-2013, 12:28 PM
Ok...Ok....Ok :) I guess what I wanted to point out that, this is the type of thing Laser Reps tell you, that you can make a fortune
at. With more and more laser operators coming into the market. I see more and more competition on plates and nametags driving
those prices down. We see it here all the time already, how can I compete with what "Garage Gary" charges for plates.... now
as laser technicians.....we will find a way to be profitable! ;)

Martin Boekers
03-27-2013, 12:50 PM
Don't confuse my question about the future of lasers with the future of the business or industry that most people on here are in.

Most people on this forum are either in the sign making or awards/trophy industry. People will always need signs and plaques/trophies/awards. And good operators (like Mike) will almost always see increases in their business because they have great customer service and produce quality products.

But would a customer prefer to buy an $8 two color engraved nametag or a $4 UV printed nametag with a four color logo?

UV Inks can and will get better.....printing a four color logo on stainless steel that is weather resistent will be able to be made cheaper and faster than using Cermark on stainless steel.


I think there may be misconceptions about UV printers , at least I had some. Not all inks work as well with all substrates. A friend of mine has a shop in St. Louis with 2 large format printers and they
have had issues with certain materials holding ink. That being said they have done some fine art work on silver Dibond that just blew me away. Each process has it's pros & cons. Sometimes we can
overlook the cons when we dream about having a piece of equipment. I thought Dye Sub was the greatest thing until I discovered Epson jets clogged all the time. :) the Ricoh I have now
(for 2 years). It hard for me to imagine paying $50,000+ for a machine to do nametags....Right now I can do Dye Sub full color nametags and some here do Magic Touch. I believe some of the flatbeds
that do Tee Shirts can print on various substrates that have been pre-coated. Not outdoor worthy though. Many sign are printed (pigment printers) on vinyl and laminated to the substrate.

Would I love a UV printer? You are dang tootn.... :)
though has been great.

Joe Hillmann
03-27-2013, 12:52 PM
Ok...Ok....Ok :) I guess what I wanted to point out that, this is the type of thing Laser Reps tell you, that you can make a fortune
at. With more and more laser operators coming into the market. I see more and more competition on plates and nametags driving
those prices down. We see it here all the time already, how can I compete with what "Garage Gary" charges for plates.... now
as laser technicians.....we will find a way to be profitable! ;)

When it comes to companies that are going to be ordering hundreds of tags or more, cost doesn't even get asked about. That is not to say you should jack your prices up, it is that they are more concerned with getting the order placed quickly and leaving it up to me to decide how to do. It is the people that come in and want one or two tags who are worried about price, font, size and material. And those are the people I wouldn't mind losing to someone doing it as a hobby.

As a side note most of the companies I have done tags for are for frac sand processing companies or something related to frac sand. Other business may be much more worried about cost.

Steve Clarkson
03-27-2013, 1:14 PM
What about 5 years from now......don't you think those UV ink manufacturers are working diligently to come up with new and better inks that can stick to any substrate and outlast a nuclear winter? Yes, the link to the printer I showed in my original post is $30,000......but like lasers ($30,000 five years ago to $5,000 today) the UV printer prices will drop.

Scott Shepherd
03-27-2013, 1:14 PM
But would a customer prefer to buy an $8 two color engraved nametag or a $4 UV printed nametag with a four color logo?

UV Inks can and will get better.....printing a four color logo on stainless steel that is weather resistent will be able to be made cheaper and faster than using Cermark on stainless steel.

You can race to the bottom of the industry if you want, and that's where some products and customers live, which is fine. However, I think your question makes more sense to be along these lines :

But would a customer prefer to buy an $8 two color engraved nametag or a $4 UV printed nametag with a four color logo, or a custom shaped name tag that is unique to them and their company branding?

For $4, you get a rectangle and you look like everyone else on the planet wearing a name tag. It's my job to help you stand out, as well as care as much about your company image as you do yourself. When you do that, you reap rewards. When you become the dollar store for name tags, you'll attract the customers that want to pay $1 and don't care about their image.

I think this market is at it's beginning, not it's end. 3D printers have no place in production at this point. No one's making 10,000 items on a 3D printer. They use them to proof the concept and then have it made using more economical methods. UV printers still have one flaw. They use ink. Ink has a lifespan outdoors. You'll never print products for any industry that requires items last. Imagine if the ink tag had full sun exposure. It wouldn't be but about 3 years in and the "DANGER- LIFE THREATENING DEVICE" tag won't be able to be read and someone could get seriously injured. For that reason, tags are engraved.

Kevin Braat
03-27-2013, 1:23 PM
As the owner of a 3d printer, 80W laser and a Shopbot CNC machine, I can tell you that all three have their uses.

A 3d printer is slow and most are a bit finicky with settings. They can make parts the others can never attempt to make, but even a small part requires 20 minutes or more to print. Large parts take hours. Parts need to be designed with removable support material or 3d printing orientation in mind.
PRO - unlimited design shapes
CON - slow, limited material options, takes some skill to design the parts and print direction

The laser is great for acrylic sheets, metal marking and testing scale models. Mine cannot handle the thicker materials or cut into some plastics without harmful gasses.
PRO - precision, large number of materials, reasonably fast, easy to use
CON - limited to mainly flat or round objects with a rotary, possible harmful gasses

The Shopbot is great for sheets of material and large 3d objects. I could cut acrylic with it, but not with the precision of the laser. Also, trying to engrave a plate takes more time on this machine than just metal marking on the laser with Cermark. The warm up time is much greater, as is the dust and noise.
PRO - Great for large projects and sheets, still good for small parts with advanced planning, cuts most materials, intermediate skills required for some file setups
CON - Noisy, some dust and cleanup after cutting, parts may require tab removal or additional finish

Each machine depends on what you are doing. If you want acrylic, I go straight to the laser. Polycarbonate PC case goes to the Shopbot and small plastic prototype parts come from the 3d printer. Use each to it's advantages. I find myself using one machine to modify the others more and more.

Mike Null
03-27-2013, 1:56 PM
Kevin

Welcome to Sawmill Creek.

I look at some of the printing methods and products as ways to expand my business. I don't look at them as transferring business; though that can sometimes be the case if I feel it is a better option. I don't see 3d printing as having anything to do with my engraving business. UV printers offer some nice options but at the moment they are too expensive and really don't fit my business plan. I don't see one in my future.

Over the years I've become much more focused and have moved away from all retail activity including t-shirts even though they are often commercial customers. I have raised my minimum charge to $25 and am considering raising it higher. I just don't want to be bothered with Tom, who's making a plaque for his Eagle Scout or Mary, who just found a great bargain at the Dollar Store and would like to get it engraved for $5 or $6.

And, again, I don't see laser engraving diminishing one iota.

Joe Hillmann
03-27-2013, 2:00 PM
Another thing about my worry of home lasers becoming as common as home printers. Every computer you buy comes with some type of typing program and some type of paint program. With that and a printer you can do things that in the past would have required going to a print shop.

But with a laser you need some type of vector program and the knowledge to use it. Making it less likely for lasers to become as common as printers.

Also paper is cheap. One penny can get you ten sheets. If you screw something up printing, no big deal it didn't even cost a cent. Things we put in the laser (even the cheapest ones) tend to be much much more expensive. So if it doesn't turn out perfect the first time you are out at least a few buck but probably a lot more.

Another thing about any home lasers in the future, they will be compact which means they can't do large items. Usually when I am doing sheet goods I use every inch of the laser bed and wished I had a bit more to work with. So the home lasers wont be able to do large parts without a lot of creative splicing. Which requires knowledge of corelDraw and probably practice which costs material.

With all that said the only thing I could think of that may be able to be compleatly replaced with small desktop lasers would be for making tags. Even then the person who owns the laser would have to source the material and have a way to cut it down to size so it fits in the laser.

Martin Boekers
03-27-2013, 2:00 PM
What about 5 years from now......don't you think those UV ink manufacturers are working diligently to come up with new and better inks that can stick to any substrate and outlast a nuclear winter? Yes, the link to the printer I showed in my original post is $30,000......but like lasers ($30,000 five years ago to $5,000 today) the UV printer prices will drop.

The Epilog that I paid $35,000 actually 5 years ago still sells for close to the same price, Yes you can buy a laser for $5,000 but it's not the same as Epilog, Uls or Trotec.

I don't know anyone yet with a $30,000 UV so I can say what those limitations might be. There will be price fluctuations as technology moves forward, then again it takes
a skilled operator to realize the potential.

George M. Perzel
03-27-2013, 3:23 PM
And for another opinion..........
Steve, with all due respect I think that you are letting advances in technology constrain your imagination rather than expand it.
After ten years of owning a laser I am still amazed at the number of new uses I see for the technology every week. I am not in the awards or trophy business and do few signs or nameplates-but plenty of business exists in those areas which will continue to grow as our society becomes more and more dependent on people who provide specialized services. We have created a generation of great kids who can text and tweet while simultaneously brushing their teeth and worrying about global warming but have no idea of how to change a tire (text AAA for help) or replace a wall switch (electrician is only $65 an hour). The service industry will continue to be huge and expanding.
You asked "Is there one product or process that the laser makes/does that will not be replaced within the next 5-10 years? I can't really think of one."
1.Cutting a name out of maple and inlaying it into a piece of walnut-what technology does it or will do it better/quicker/cheaper ?
2. Marquetry veneer designs?
3. Cut thin plexi quickly?
4. Cut model parts-wood/plastic/foam?
5. Engrave complex design in wood?
6. Burn names on sugar cookies or bagels-got a better way to do it?

I'm sure others can add to the list- new technologies will continue to add moire opportunities for laser use, not eliminate it.
If you are not convinced will give you $1000 for your system now-before it becomes obsolete!!
Best Regards,
George
Laserarts

Khalid Nazim
03-27-2013, 3:57 PM
Steve,

Thanks for starting this thread. We have great dialog going on here.

I am very optimistic about the laser cutter/engraver being a very relevant tool in the future. Before I got my laser, I could not have even imagined the things that I am making with it now and selling them. And I feel that I have not even scratched the surface yet. I am only limited by my imagination and the ability to convert these ideas into business.

Regards
Khalid

Guy Hilliard
03-27-2013, 11:07 PM
Boy am I screwed. I just dropped a bundle on a new Speedy 400. :P

UV printers, CNC routers, etcetera are not a competing technology to laser cutters / engravers but rather they are complementary technology.

UV print a design on acrylic and then engrave additional detail and profile cut with a laser. Waterjet, routing, or any other cutting technology will require post polishing the edge. Cut a memorial / dedication / founders plaque on a CNC router and then cut appliques and engrave detail with a laser. How are you going to cut fine detail in paper? Die cutting or an ultrasonic knife are very useful for cutting relatively large pieces of cardboard, coroplast, and Sintra but cutting / engraving fine detail in tissue, paper, acrylic, and textiles (especially silk and synthetics), fuhgeddaboudit! Engraving a photo on acrylic, painted glass, or marble, nothing else comes close to a laser's detail and finish. Yes you can print a picture directly on acrylic and glass (as they have been able to do on glass since 1850) but a laser enables a level of artistic versatility that is not available in a print / photographic process, it changes the medium. Cut rubber stamps with a router and expect any level of quality / detail - good luck. Want to engrave 2pt text on a product you better have a laser, rotary and diamond drag just isn't going to cut it. Mold masters for medallions are easier and cheaper to make using 3D laser engraved acetyl then any machining process, and 3D printing is not even close to reproducing the surface finish achieved with a laser (and quite a few 3D printers use lasers in their process. There's no reason our lasers cannot be modified to be a fused deposition 3D printer with a thermoplastic medium - just remember to turn the air assist off). New processes and applications for laser processing are being discovered on a regular basis (see laser origami).

I think I'm OK for the next 20 years or so.

Jesse Anderson
03-28-2013, 12:01 AM
When i got my Epilog. They Released the newer Fusion models. Of course the industry will change..

I just hope its not like the Television. Or Hammer. Every one has one in the shop and uses it every day.

Jiten Patel
03-28-2013, 8:09 AM
Great post! Very interesting to here peoples views on this. I can see where you are coming from Steve, tech becomes cheaper, more accessible to the masses....but does this make the masses a master of their craft. Just because you can get Photoshop elements bundled with a computer doesn't make the end user a graphic designer/artist. It is us, the user who makes the machine what it is...the laser is simply a tool.

Echoing what everyone has said, we make these machines what they are with our businesses sense and design skill. Speaking on what I do, I would love to see any machine that can produce what we do. When we get our new machine, the possibilities are endless. We have thousands of ideas that only a laser can do. The machine anyone can buy, the ideas takes someone with a creative brain to coin and implement.

We exhibit at some of the biggest shows in the UK with our laser-cut wares and we get the odd person saying "we can do that" under their breathe. My retort is, good luck with that, and when you do finally get the skill to do so, let me know and I would love to see what you come up with.

With these new machines becoming cheaper, all that means is we will be able to add to our arsenal and improve our business models rather than replacing an idea that works. Innovation rather than reinvention!

Rodne Gold
03-28-2013, 8:30 AM
I don't often post but read the forum most everyday. A little background. I bought my first laser in February 1982, an 80 watt engraver from Laser Machining in Somerset, WI. Since then I have owned 3 different Epilogs, nothing ever less than 100 watts and currently a 120 watt with a 24x36 table. When I started 30 years ago all we could laser was wood plaques, acrylic, stone and glass. I have watched the supplier side of the industry create literally thousands of new laserable products. I never looked at the laser as "what" I was selling but rather as one of the methods I used in creating products for my customers. I have engraved and sold at wholesale to the awards industry, supplier to ad specialty companies and at retail. I think as long as we continue to develop creative products and ideas we don't have to worry about the laser becoming obsolete. During those years I have owned other engravers, cnc routers, sublimation, screen printing, Magic Touch and jsut about everything in between. It still comes down to I have to design a product that best serves my customers needs. They frankly don't care how it is produced, what equipment is used, etc. as long as it makes them look good to the recipient. I will be 65 next month and I am more excited about the laser industry today than anytime in the past 30 years, except for the day my first system arrived. The only way lasers will become obsolete in our lifetimes is we stop thinking and designing creative solutions for our customers. Everyday I find another idea on the forum that allows me to create something I have never made before and that leads me to completely new possibilities for my customers.

Thats exactly the philosophy I have , the laser is merely a tool. For Eg Lathes have been around for 100's of years..they still valid today as then , its what they can produce that counts..

Keith Outten
03-28-2013, 9:22 AM
I can't think of any tool or machine that the laser engraver has caused to become extinct. Consequently I can't imagine any tool or machine in the future will make a laser engraver become extinct. Even the newer lasers with new technology have little impact on the existing laser engravers.

I think it all about innovation, creativity and last but not least MARKETING in the right proportions. I've seen a lot of very creative people go out of business because they spent very little of their time being innovative and failed to market their products.
.

Tim Bateson
03-28-2013, 9:51 AM
I'm not worried about cheaper lasers that more people are buying. I've seen them come & go in my area. Each time I may loose a customer or two, but when they fold (and most have), I end up with a lot of their cultivated clients. I would guess half my clients have come from start-ups that failed.

Mark Ross
03-28-2013, 10:29 AM
I can't tell you all what we do (don't want competition) but we started with one EPilog 36EXT, last year we bought a second and most likely a third is not too far behind. We cut. The only time we engrave is government jobs where someone who works here wants something done. 8-10 hours a day 6 days a week.

We joke that the laser prints money...

Kim Vellore
03-28-2013, 1:47 PM
If you are using vector on your laser for any job, that wont be replaced, there are some replacement options for raster but not all are the same.

Kim

Chris DeGerolamo
03-28-2013, 2:23 PM
I can't tell you all what we do (don't want competition) but we started with one EPilog 36EXT, last year we bought a second and most likely a third is not too far behind. We cut. The only time we engrave is government jobs where someone who works here wants something done. 8-10 hours a day 6 days a week.

We joke that the laser prints money...

I need proof... lol

Kay Bengtson
03-29-2013, 1:01 PM
I think it is only a matter of time before the new generation of high powered semiconductor lasers will be fitted to laser cutter/engravers. They probably could be fitted directly into the lens carriage. That should dramatically improve performance and lower costs and reliability. I think that development will be more impacting than these other alternate technologies and may derail the Chinese glass tube models. What it will do to the business is unknown but I would love to have one.

Kay

Ernie Balch
03-29-2013, 2:18 PM
quote "I think it is only a matter of time before the new generation of high powered semiconductor lasers will be fitted to laser cutter/engravers."

----------------------


I think the semiconductor lasers are all too short a wavelength to be replacing the CO2 lasers. The advantage of a 10.6 micron wavelength CO2 laser is that it is all thermal and can easily cut or mark a wide range of materials with a large depth of focus for a very low cost. Going to shorter wavelengths like a fiber laser allows cutting and marking of metals but is not so good for wood and plastics especially when you consider the relatively high cost.

Kay Bengtson
03-29-2013, 5:01 PM
quote "I think it is only a matter of time before the new generation of high powered semiconductor lasers will be fitted to laser cutter/engravers."

----------------------


I think the semiconductor lasers are all too short a wavelength to be replacing the CO2 lasers. The advantage of a 10.6 micron wavelength CO2 laser is that it is all thermal and can easily cut or mark a wide range of materials with a large depth of focus for a very low cost. Going to shorter wavelengths like a fiber laser allows cutting and marking of metals but is not so good for wood and plastics especially when you consider the relatively high cost.

There has been a development in that area just recently and a demo laser cutter was shown operating. I lost the link but I do recall that it cut wood.

Check out Osram Opto Semiconductors. They are coordinating the IMOTHEB project (Integrated microoptical and microthermal elements for diode lasers of high brilliance) From their press release: "Diode-pumped high-power laser systems for material processing such as cutting and welding are playing an increasingly important role in industry. Their advantages over carbon dioxide lasers and lasers pumped with flash lamps are lower operating costs, greater efficiency and smaller size. Fiber lasers and fiber-coupled diode lasers are becoming more and more important for optical material processing."

Ernie Balch
03-29-2013, 8:07 PM
It would be really great if the diode pumped fiber laser prices come down to earth and become comparable to CO2 lasers. In that case I would buy one of each ;)

Liesl Dexheimer
03-30-2013, 10:58 AM
Another thing about my worry of home lasers becoming as common as home printers. Every computer you buy comes with some type of typing program and some type of paint program. With that and a printer you can do things that in the past would have required going to a print shop.

But with a laser you need some type of vector program and the knowledge to use it. Making it less likely for lasers to become as common as printers.

Also paper is cheap. One penny can get you ten sheets. If you screw something up printing, no big deal it didn't even cost a cent. Things we put in the laser (even the cheapest ones) tend to be much much more expensive. So if it doesn't turn out perfect the first time you are out at least a few buck but probably a lot more.

Another thing about any home lasers in the future, they will be compact which means they can't do large items. Usually when I am doing sheet goods I use every inch of the laser bed and wished I had a bit more to work with. So the home lasers wont be able to do large parts without a lot of creative splicing. Which requires knowledge of corelDraw and probably practice which costs material.

With all that said the only thing I could think of that may be able to be compleatly replaced with small desktop lasers would be for making tags. Even then the person who owns the laser would have to source the material and have a way to cut it down to size so it fits in the laser.

My concern is exactly this (home/personal lasers). Lasers have become cheaper to produce and laser manufacturers are now selling not just to trophy/award/sign shops but schools and large companies which will definitely hurt our business in the long run. I understand the need for laser manufacturers to expand their market but it could undermine smaller companies.

I also do see how the personalization market is pushing more color based products. Sublimation seems to be quite the rage with UV printing not far behind. I think there will always be a need for lasers but sometimes the option for color may attract more customers.

Joe Hillmann
03-30-2013, 11:58 AM
What about 5 years from now......don't you think those UV ink manufacturers are working diligently to come up with new and better inks that can stick to any substrate and outlast a nuclear winter? Yes, the link to the printer I showed in my original post is $30,000......but like lasers ($30,000 five years ago to $5,000 today) the UV printer prices will drop.

You are comparing American/German and British lasers to Chinese lasers when say "$30,000 five years ago to $5,000 today" The only place I have seen laser prices really drop is in yags. If you machine that five years ago would have cost $80,000 can now be replaced with a fiber laser somewhere in the $30,000 range. Of course even then you could have bought a Chinese yag of the same specs five years ago for under $40,000. I don't know of many people here who would rather have a Chinese machine over a US machine. When it comes down to it the biggest reason people end up going with Chinese is the price, and when they do it they know it wont be as good as an American machine but for 1/4-1/10 the price they are willing to work with it.

Dan Hintz
03-31-2013, 7:21 PM
I think it is only a matter of time before the new generation of high powered semiconductor lasers will be fitted to laser cutter/engravers. They probably could be fitted directly into the lens carriage. That should dramatically improve performance and lower costs and reliability. I think that development will be more impacting than these other alternate technologies and may derail the Chinese glass tube models.

Diode-based lasers require some form of amplification/frequency modifier medium... it's not the diode energy itself that's doing the cutting. For fiber, it's the fiber itself... for YAG, it's the crystal. You can't stuff all of that into a small carriage, which is why they are designed the way they are... a box with all of the important stuff in it, and a transmission fiber going to the focusing optics.

Kay Bengtson
03-31-2013, 8:53 PM
Diode-based lasers require some form of amplification/frequency modifier medium... it's not the diode energy itself that's doing the cutting. For fiber, it's the fiber itself... for YAG, it's the crystal. You can't stuff all of that into a small carriage, which is why they are designed the way they are... a box with all of the important stuff in it, and a transmission fiber going to the focusing optics.

I didn't make this up. If you go to youtube and search for "diode laser cutter" you will see prototype systems already working that cut and mark wood using 808nm IR diode lasers mounted on a carriage. They are big and slow now but with the newer tech coming down the pike, we should see practical units in the next few years.

Jeff Schlangen
04-01-2013, 12:38 AM
I think one pro to a laser is when people actually get to see it work. I have our laser running for 8 hours a day and in the mornings when I'm not there I have it set up so the secretary can go in, push go and keep it running all morning as well. So any time somebody comes in and asks for a plaque/sign/etc to be made they'll sit in awe watching the laser before we even get down to business on what it is that they want.

Perfect example of this is I made an urn for this family who had just lost their father. I invited them all to watch the engraving process and sure enough the mother and 3 of the kids showed up along with a few grand kids to watch the laser do its thing. When it got to the eyes of the photo the mother burst out in tears. It was sort of a humbling experience, and certainly an experience that they'll remember.

I don't think they would have reacted quite the same way if it were a UV printer. Laser engraving as a certain 'awe' factor to it. I've been at it for a little over a year and some days I'll just watch it like "wow ... it's actually doing that!"

Not quite a printer, not quite a CNC .. unique in its own right.

Mike Lysov
04-01-2013, 7:30 AM
I have an UV printer, it works well for $10K I have paid for the brand new one from China. As you can see it is not that expensive if you do not try to get a well know brand.
There is no much to improve with UV inks. My inks are good but they are quite expensive ($200/L) and I have 7 colour system. Actually it depends what you compare UV inks with. My printer is based on a Epson 4880 printer and if you look at the prices of original Epson inks in Epson cartridges UV inks do not look expensive at all. However if you compare UV inks with solvent based inks UV inks cost a few times more indeed.
White UV ink could be better as it seems to be too thick to print without banding but it is still ok. Yes UV inks do not stick well to glass and ceramic, probably some bare metal as well but there are some special coatings available in you want to print on these material. And UV inks are very good for outdoor and very scratch and even some solvents resistant, not to mention that there is no way you can ruin UV print with water. So I guess in terms of making name tags and awards there may be some competition UV printers vs laser engravers.

Re 3d printers, there are already some technologies available for laser based 3d printers. They can print metal parts. I have seen some examples of printed parts and the whole technology looks very promising. But I do not really see what 3d printers and laser engravers have in common.

Dan Hintz
04-01-2013, 9:02 AM
I didn't make this up. If you go to youtube and search for "diode laser cutter" you will see prototype systems already working that cut and mark wood using 808nm IR diode lasers mounted on a carriage. They are big and slow now but with the newer tech coming down the pike, we should see practical units in the next few years.

Sure, I've seen a number of "diode-based lasers" on youtube over the years... the laser is often yanked from a DVD player. Hardly any real power. You're not going to cut much very fast at a couple of Watts of power. The real stuff comes into play when there's an amplification medium (fiber, crystal, etc.). Doing otherwise would be like driving a car with only 1st gear.

Chuck Jarrett
04-01-2013, 6:38 PM
Even at my age I have the idea of a new and more powerful laser in the back of my head. BTW, my business is up more than 50% already this year with strong orders for April and May. I think the future is very bright for the laser engraving business.

I see that Bill has posted while I was writing---I'm 76 and considering a new machine--Trotec naturally. (I just bought a card printer last week.)Mike you encourage me. I am 60 and I get asked by friends quite often when I am going to retire. I do not plan to retire, as I like being productive. We as yet do not have a laser engraver, however are seriously considering getting one to compliment our CNC router. I am leaning towards the Epilog 36 EXT, because of the bed size (engraving area), however I have noticed in your post that you are pro Trotec. In your opinion are there significant advantages of the Trotec over the Epilog. I'm hoping if I get to be 76, I will be thinking of something new in our business.

matthew knott
04-01-2013, 7:53 PM
Sure, I've seen a number of "diode-based lasers" on youtube over the years... the laser is often yanked from a DVD player. Hardly any real power. You're not going to cut much very fast at a couple of Watts of power. The real stuff comes into play when there's an amplification medium (fiber, crystal, etc.). Doing otherwise would be like driving a car with only 1st gear.

They are coming on Dan, not there yet by a long way but there have been big leaps forward in the quality of beam coming directly from laser diodes, We had a rep for Thales (laser diodes) come in and he thinks that direct diode could replace fiber lasers in the future, be interesting if they can as it will bring the cost and size right down, in the 60's a HeNe laser would cost $$$$$ and be massive, now a laser diode fits on the end of a pen, Oddly its small CO2 lasers than seem to have been stuck for many years, no real change in 10 years and the price of tubes has remained unchanged, Yags been replaced by fiber and costs have been more than halved!

Heres an example of direct diodes 2kw no less http://optics.org/news/4/3/41

Dan Hintz
04-01-2013, 8:06 PM
They are coming on Dan, not there yet by a long way but...

I'm not arguing it's not coming, but as you said, it's still a loooong ways off before that kind of power is stuffed into a package the same size as a pack of cigarettes (barring some wild technological advance in the meantime). But discussing it now as if it'll happen before any of us are ready to retire is wishful thinking...

matthew knott
04-01-2013, 8:18 PM
for a small laser marker or cutter 50 watts would be plenty, I think 5-10 years but its a wild guess, also they need to change the wavelength to near CO2 but it will probably happen. One thing's for sure, laser prices are going to come down !!

AL Ursich
04-02-2013, 2:02 PM
I have an UV printer, it works well for $10K I have paid for the brand new one from China. As you can see it is not that expensive if you do not try to get a well know brand.
There is no much to improve with UV inks. My inks are good but they are quite expensive ($200/L) and I have 7 color system. Actually it depends what you compare UV inks with. My printer is based on a Epson 4880 printer and if you look at the prices of original Epson inks in Epson cartridges UV inks do not look expensive at all. However if you compare UV inks with solvent based inks UV inks cost a few times more indeed.
White UV ink could be better as it seems to be too thick to print without banding but it is still ok. Yes UV inks do not stick well to glass and ceramic, probably some bare metal as well but there are some special coatings available in you want to print on these material. And UV inks are very good for outdoor and very scratch and even some solvents resistant, not to mention that there is no way you can ruin UV print with water. So I guess in terms of making name tags and awards there may be some competition UV printers vs laser engravers.

Re 3d printers, there are already some technologies available for laser based 3d printers. They can print metal parts. I have seen some examples of printed parts and the whole technology looks very promising. But I do not really see what 3d printers and laser engravers have in common.

Mike,

I would be interested in learning more about the Under $10K UV LED Printers from China. I did a search after seeing this post yesterday and was shocked at a path to a UV LED printer that I had not known about.

I am going to start a new thread to explore the China Side of UV LED Printers like the many very informative threads on China Laser Engravers and CNC Machines.

AL

Mike Lysov
04-06-2013, 6:38 PM
Mike,

I would be interested in learning more about the Under $10K UV LED Printers from China. I did a search after seeing this post yesterday and was shocked at a path to a UV LED printer that I had not known about.

I am going to start a new thread to explore the China Side of UV LED Printers like the many very informative threads on China Laser Engravers and CNC Machines.

AL

Hi Al,

I have replied to your PM. After you open that thread PM me a link to it and I will try to give there as much details as possible. I have had three machines(a CNC router, a UV printer and a Laser cutter) brought from China with quite different experiences.

AL Ursich
04-06-2013, 9:44 PM
Mike,

Thank You for the PM and email and Links... Excellent !!!!

Signs 101 a Sign Forum has a post looking for more info on your flatbed UV unit.

Thanks,

AL