The Three R’s of Laser Tubes: Recharge, Repair or Replace
Listen to the Podcast that accompanies this article here: Episode 13: The Three R’s of Laser Tubes
This article is to address the unknown, unexpected, unplanned and unbudgeted (is that a word?) factor of laser tubes. Louie Alvarez will be discussing the difference between the well know metal tubes from manufacturers such as Synrad, Coherent, Rofin, GSI, Universal and now Epilog as well as comparison to the newer more affordable glass laser tubes from the likes of Laser Lowdown podcast show sponsor, CheckMate Lasers. The three R’s of laser tubes that MUST be taken into consideration are:
Recharge is the least expensive investment for a laser tube. Now this refers ONLY to the metal tubes as glass tubes are not rechargeable but considered to be consumables, hence upon depletion of the CO2 contents a glass tube is simply disposed of and replaced. Not so with metal laser tubes as the cost of these tubes can be in the neighborhood of a couple thousand dollars to well over $10k so you want to get as much lifespan from these units as possible. So the cost to recharge a metal laser tube can be as little as $1500 to as much as $3500 or more.
Sidenote: I don’t keep up on the cost of this recharge cost any longer since I work primarily with glass tubes, but needless to say the cost of replacing a 50w tube at $500 vs. a recharge of $1500+ pretty much eliminates any fair comparison.
To clarify a recharge of a metal tube is needed in the neighborhood of 5-7 years and will be done by a leading manufacturer once and depending on age maybe twice. Seems the more a metal tube has been recharged the greater the risk of internal components failing, hence requiring extensive repair and or replacement of these internal components. Compare that to a glass laser tube that has an average life span of 2-3 years and replacing a glass tube twice in 6 years at a cost of $1000. That is still a much less painful cash outlay than a single recharge of $1500 or more in the same time frame for a metal laser tube. This pretty much makes the glass tube more appealing.
Let’s move onto repair of a laser tube. Again, this eliminates a glass tube due to the inherent design to treat a glass laser tube as a consumable and simply replace after its useful lifespan has ended. Due to the excessive cost of a metal tube owners of these types of laser tubes will go the repair route if/when necessary to obtain the longest lifespan possible. Unfortunately the repair cost can be quite excessive as well.
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 2-3 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 of 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 in itself was a travesty 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 weeks!). That is 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 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 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 (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 $1500. Once again this pretty much makes the glass tube more appealing.
Well we’ve already covered the first of the three R’s and the glass tube is clearly the winner in the actual real world comparisons. To begin the final and most costly of the three R’s you should know that depending on the wattage, the manufacturer of the laser machine, the size of the laser machine, etc. metal laser tubes can make up anywhere from 30% to as much as 60% the total cost of a laser machine, that said prepare for the cost of what a new, replacement tube could run a laser system that runs off of a metal laser tube.
These are the figures I’ve obtained from a leading metal laser tube manufacturer vs. the glass laser tubes. Prices can go up or down since this was obtained, but I doubt very much that the increase or decrease has been substantial.
|GLASS||METAL TUBE||Difference in CostMetal vs. Glass||$ more than Glass|
|Wattage||10w||n/a||$ 2,650||$ 2,800|
|20w||n/a||$ 4,950||$ 5,200|
|25w||n/a||$ 4,565||$ 4,780|
|40w||$ 300||$ 8,500||$ 8,900||$ 8,200||$ 8,600|
|50w||$ 400||n/a||$ 10,780||$ 10,380|
|60w||$ 500||$ 12,500||$ 13,000||$ 12,000||$ 12,500|
|70w||n/a||$ 14,250||$ 14,750|
|80w||$ 650||$ 14,250||$ 14,750||$ 13,600||$ 14,100|
|100w||$ 800||$ 16,750||$ 17,250||$ 15,950||$ 16,450|
As you can see the cost difference between Metal laser tubes vs. Glass laser tubes is significant. Price difference is as little as $8,200 to as much as $16,450 for the same wattage laser tube. That is a huge amount of cash outlay if a metal laser tube dies to the point of no recharge or repair will get it operational again.
The leading metal laser tube manufacturers for the typical cabinet based Class 1 laser system has always been Synrad, Deos and Coherent. Deos was purchased by Coherent and even more recently GSI purchased Synrad, so the choices for metal tubes has diminished to two popular brands, Synrad or Coherent. A number of years ago Universal began manufacturer of their own metal laser tubes in-house and most recently Epilog has also begun to manufacture their own metal laser tubes as well. This simply shows the excessive cost of laser tubes has driven four (4) laser tube manufacturers to merge into 2 manufacturers in addition to the two leading laser system manufacturers bringing that outsourced product in-house to clamp down on costs, design, turn around, etc.
After looking at the table above and comparing glass tubes to metal tubes the clear winner once again is Glass laser tubes. It’s very difficult to argue the point of a metal tube no matter what perceived benefit there may be or what a salesman will spout out when it comes to an $8000 or more difference in cost for comparable power wattage output when comparing metal to glass laser tubes. $8000+ is nothing to sneeze at.
So there you have it the Three R’s of Laser Tubes that no one ever revealed to you until the inevitable time arrived. I hope this educates you on the finer point of the three R’s and if you’re looking for a new laser machine or to add another system to your laser arsenal then as you conduct your research and do your homework, make sure to ask about the three R’s and don’t look at just the initial purchase dollars but the actual long term cost you must prepare for.