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Glass laser tubes vs. Metal laser tubes, what’s the difference?


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.

What’s the lifespan of glass vs. metal?

  • Glass laser tubes: approximately 2 years to 5 years
  • Metal laser tubes: approximately 5 years to 7 years

NOTE: The numbers provided by laser tube manufacturers and the laser system 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., 10-30 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 to that lifespan hype that they are well known to promote. No clock, then absolutely no way to know how long a laser tube operational life truly is. The only way would be to clock 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.

What does 1 year vs. 5 years, really mean?

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 2-5 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. Best case scenario is 2 glass tubes in 6 years at a cost of $1000 or 3 glass tubes in 6 years at $1500 over a 6 year period. Keep this in mind as I describe a “real work scenario” that IS factual and true.

A customer of mine from a previous laser manufacturer I worked with had a 50 watt air-cooled “metal” laser tube from an unnamed laser tube manufacturer go bad in July of 2009. This laser tube had just reached its 5 year “birthday.”

1st problem, the laser tube manufacturer would not deal with the customer directly so my customer had to go through me, I had to go through the laser machine manufacturer who then dealt with the laser tube manufacturer directly. That was a travesty in itself but we had no choice.

2nd problem, the repair took 6 weeks to receive back the repaired laser tube. NOT a recharged or brand new metal laser tube, just a repaired tube. (and that’s a laser system DOWN for six (6) long, painful, agonizing, non-productive, non income generating weeks!). Which brings us to the

3rd problem, this was simply a repair, not a recharge. Of course the laser tube manufacturer could have recharged the laser tube but since we could not deal with them directly nor would they respond to our persistent inquiries we never could determine that.

4th and final but MAJOR problem; COST! As a laser system salesman/dealer I along with everyone else in the industry never discussed that sometime in the future there was going to be a major expense that will require a large money outlay to continue laser operations in the form of the Three R’s. 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.

Here are the numbers provided by the laser tube factory prior to the repair required (the laser tube had to be diagnosed prior to repair at the laser tube factory) that had to be approved on this 50 watt air-cooled metal laser tube.

Provided July 2009

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

Customer ultimately paid $3,080 for repairs

Now imagine a repaired metal sealed laser tube in 5 years costing only $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 or prepared to deal with).

Compare $2,750 to $3,080 to $7,150 vs. glass laser tubes over the same 5 year period (or in our worst case scenario of 3 tubes in 6 years) totaling ONLY $1500. Once again this pretty much makes the glass tube more appealing.

What’s the warranty length comparison?

  • Typical metal laser tube warranty for one (1) year
  • CheckMate Lasers glass tube warranty for 90 days

Once again before passing judgment, let’s put this into perspective. A typical metal laser tube has a one year warranty, if the typical laser tube life span is 5 years then it has a warranty equal to 1/5 its lifespan. CheckMate Lasers glass tubes on the other hand have a 90 day warranty on a of worst case scenario of one (1) year lifespan which is the equivalent of 1/4 of said worst case scenario lifespan.

 Type  Warranty  Lifespan  Percentage
 Metal  1 year  5 years  1/5 or 20%
 Glass  90 days  1 year  1/4 or 25%

Grade school math brings us to the conclusion that the warranty on a typical metal tube is a shorter percentage of the lifespan than a glass tubes lifespan warranty. This simply translates into a longer warranty on a glass tube than metal tube!

What’s the difference in operation?

  • ALL Glass laser tubes must be water cooled
  • Metal laser tubes up to 100 watts can be air cooled
  • Metal laser tubes 150 watts or higher MUST be water cooled
  • (none of the major laser system manufacturers offer water-cooled systems below 100 watts any longer!)

What’s the benefits of water cooled vs. air cooled?

Please review a detailed explanation in a CheckMate Lasers article here: Water vs. Air

What’s the difference in quality?

NONE! Light is light…

Let’s compare a laser beam to the well-known common 110 volt outlet. CheckMate Lasers is based in Las Vegas, NV and we have 110v 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 output a highly focused beam of light. The light marks many materials, no matter who makes the 50 watt tube, because 50 watts of power is 50 watts of power and they all mark material by vaporizing the surface, no difference, period.

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

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