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10 tips from manufacturer Pulsar Photonics
How to buy the right laser machine
Reading time: 6 Minute(s)
Date: December 15, 2023
Optical Industry

Careful planning is essential

Buying a laser machine for micro material processing (also known as a USP laser machine) is often a major investment for companies that want to improve their production processes and expand their manufacturing capacities.

Often, these machines are high-tech machines that perform component-adapted manufacturing processes and have a variety of functions. It is therefore crucial that the purchasing process is carefully planned and executed.

You can find out how to do this here.

Careful planning is essential

Clarify legal aspects before purchasing a laser machine

In addition to technical specifications and financial considerations, legal aspects should be taken into account when planning the purchasing process. In particular, the protection of intellectual property and confidentiality play an important role.

To ensure that sensitive information and know-how remain protected during the purchasing process, it is advisable to conclude a mutual non-disclosure agreement with the machine manufacturer.

In addition, it is important to ensure the clarification of intellectual property related to the laser processing machine. This includes checking patents and copyrights that arise before or during the joint project. The intended use of the machine, the involvement of a leasing company or a future installation of the machine abroad can also be information that has a major influence on the course of the project. Once the legal aspects have been clarified, the actual laser machine purchase can begin.

Test the feasibility by producing the first sample components

First of all, the machine manufacturer should demonstrate the feasibility of the desired sample components and variants. A laser application center with the option of initial contract manufacturing is suitable for this purpose. Thanks to early scaling options, the available machine capacity and the required expertise in the application center, the customer can secure their ramp-up until their own system is available.

The early production of the first components serves the following purposes:

  • Proof of feasibility in principle
  • Risk assessment
  • Determination of initial quality characteristics
  • Concrete identification of improvement potential - do not worry about the production time
  • Identification of initial process parameters

Always carry out production trials at the machine manufacturer's premises

The early process results provide you with information that can be valuable for a later machine acceptance test. You can also formulate an economical production time for a specific quality target. These production tests should always be carried out at the machine manufacturer's premises, as this allows you to make specific reference to the process results.

Test results from another source also show the basic feasibility, but cannot be used directly to minimize risks at the machine manufacturer. The laser technology information is often inadequate or insufficiently documented, which makes it necessary to repeat the feasibility studies in full.

Choosing the right type of laser machine: standard or special machine?

The next step is to decide whether a standard or special machine is more suitable for the application process. To do this, it is advisable to look at the basic characteristics of the variants

When it makes sense to buy a standard or series machine

A standard machine or series machine is designed for specific application processes or workpiece formats, intended use and often also for a specific group of people.

As the development phase of the machine has already been completed, assembly, commissioning and test procedures can be realized in a shorter time. The delivery date is then essentially determined by the supply of large components, the stock and the available personnel capacities of the machine manufacturer. The technical availability of standard machines is often in the >80 % range (please also note their definition).

This requires appropriate service packages, spare parts and trained personnel in order to provide the best possible support for ongoing production. Once the basic feasibility of an application on a standard machine has been demonstrated, the standard machine offers customer advantages in terms of price, delivery time and availability.

The customer's influence on the equipment of the machine is limited and generally restricted to predefined equipment variants of the standard machine. Thanks to a high-performance and variable machine control system, the standard machine can usually be subsequently adapted to the customer's production requirements.

When it makes sense to buy a special machine

A special machine is developed and configured according to the customer's requirements. Here, customers can have a greater influence on the specific machine configuration so that, for example, supplier and component requirements can be taken into account. These projects require professional project management.

A specially trained project management team is usually deployed for this purpose, which manages the interface communication with design, process experts, software development, procurement logistics and assembly, among others. Development projects make sense if high-performance production machines are to be developed with sufficient lead time.

Allow sufficient time for the laser machine project

The time until the machine is ready for production is often not short enough for many machine customers. Delays quickly lead to considerable costs. On average, however, the initiation and specification of a machine project takes just as long as the machine project itself (project planning, assembly, commissioning, acceptance). After completion, a finished production machine must continue to provide proof of output (cycle rate), availability and error rate. This may require many components. In addition, sufficient time and resources must be planned into the project plan in order to professionally carry out the start of series production.

Requirement specification sheet vs. target specification: create a working basis

In order to clearly record which functions the laser processing machine should have, it is helpful to formulate a requirement specification. This should focus on the question "What should the machine be able to do?". Specifications often get out of control in terms of content and time. If you do not often formulate specifications, try to describe the application on one A4 page. Define quality features and add your installation conditions. You can also formulate the intended use.

Once the specification sheet has been submitted, the supplier will then formulate a proposed solution in the form of a target specification. It provides answers to the question "How is the task implemented?". Ultimately, the offer itself is an elaborated target specification that takes into account and implements the requirements of the requirements specification.

How to identify the circle of decision-makers

Too many participants can make the successful implementation of a project more difficult. It is therefore advisable to appoint a single person responsible on both sides for each project. Both parties should establish a good working relationship and get to know each other personally at an early stage. This will make it easier to deal with any issues that arise later on.

If you find it difficult to name the necessary project participants, the following questions will help you to identify them correctly:

  • Who will be operating the machine later?
  • What occupational health and safety requirements do I have to meet as the operator?
  • How far are the infrastructure and IT prepared?
  • What about the software?
  • How is the financial and payment plan structured?
  • Do I prefer machine installment plan or machine leasing?
  • On what budget should the machine be purchased?