Q&A: Laser Engraving and Cutting Industry Outlook

An interview with James Stanaway on the evolving state of the laser engraving and cutting industry.

An Epilog Laser machine etching a glass coaster

A 2017 Grand View Research study predicts the global laser cutting machines market is expected to reach $6.72 billion by 2024. This increase can be partially attributed to the growing use of CO2, fiber, and Yttrium Aluminum Garnet (YAG) lasers in marking/cutting applications in consumer electronics and industrial sectors, which is propelling the demand for these types of systems.

According to the report, the consumer electronics sector is expected to grow the fastest due to increased material processing demands that require laser engraving and cutting. End-markets are also increasingly replacing conventional cutting technology with laser cutting, and technological advancements are allowing manufacturers to gain competitive advantages by implementing laser cutting machinery.

Epilog Laser’s Director of Marketing, James Stanaway, sheds some light on the industry, market outlook, trends and contributing growth factors in the following interview.

1. What factors should manufacturers consider when selecting a laser engraving machine?

As a manufacturer looking at a laser engraving machine, there are several questions that you should answer before going into the process. The first question I’d ask is what materials you will be working with. This will help to determine the type of laser system you need – CO2 or fiber. Next, you’ll need to decide the maximum material size you need to fit inside the machine, which will help to narrow down the model of system to look at. This can also be determined by space limitations in your shop. Once you’ve decided on the laser source and model size, wattage is the next consideration. The best way to determine your laser wattage requirements is to know the maximum thickness of material you need to cut through and the amount of product you need to engrave in a day. While other factors may come up along the way, these basic considerations are a great place to start.

2. What is the fastest growing industry for laser engraving? Where is the bulk of buying activity taking place?

For the fastest growing segment, we’re seeing the biggest increase in educational facilities getting into lasers. It’s the perfect tool for students to use in all types of classes, from engineering, to architecture, to STEAM classes. Many universities are also adding large makerspaces to their campuses as well, which is a great draw for recruitment.

On the manufacturing side, the biggest increase in laser usage is for quality control and ID/tracking and tracing purposes. Laser engraving can provide serial number engraving, time stamps, part numbers, component labels, barcode etching, data matrix code markings, branding and industry-specific codes. The laser provides a very high-quality mark that is easily read by barcode scanners, RFID scanners or other inventory tracking tools.

Epilog Laser's manufacturing facility

3. What trends are you seeing take hold in the advancement of laser cutting/marking machinery?

There are always exciting advancements that we’re working on at Epilog, but the biggest area of focus right now is in the user interface. We’re really working on making the entire process -from design to completed product - as simple as possible for the user.

4. Is the interest in purchasing laser engraving machines and laser engraving in general growing, remaining the same or declining?

It is definitely growing – on both the B2B side as well as B2C. For consumers, they see an incredible technology that allows them to do so many things – they immediately think of starting a business around laser engraving. On the B2B side, manufacturers approach us with a particular application in mind. After they take delivery and start using the system for that application they realize all the other things they can tackle in-house with their laser – custom signage, creating employee awards, customizing promotional products, and much more.

5. What feedback do you receive from first-time laser marking purchasers?

I can’t tell you how many times I hear “I wish I had purchased a higher-wattage machine” or “I wish I would have gone bigger on the table.” First-time laser buyers always struggle between selecting the right size machine to fit their application and finding the right wattage for their needs. Most of the time they go for space, which is still very critical – we never hear “I wish I purchased a smaller laser.” But wattage impacts throughput; a higher wattage machine will be able to mark a table full of parts faster than a lower wattage system. It’s important to pair the right size system with the most effective wattage configuration.

Epilog Laser Fusion M2 with acrylic fobs

6. What would you consider an industry that has just begun to realize the benefits of implementing laser marking technology?

That’s a tough one, just because we talk to so many different industries. I guess I’d have to say it’s an industry that was already using lasers, but the companies are doing it in a different way now. There are a lot of companies that are currently outsourcing their logo and identification processes and are discovering how affordable it is to bring it in-house. A lot of people are beginning to realize that lasers have come down in price over the years, making it possible to have them on-site. This allows businesses to have better control over the process and turnaround, and also save money over the outsourcing they were previously doing.

7. What enhancements are needed in order to see more laser cutters/engravers used in the manufacturing industry?

The biggest request we get from the manufacturing industry is for automation and table size. Epilog’s largest system is 40” x 28”, which is significant; however, manufacturers producing large-scale items may still need something bigger to fit those pieces. Additionally, laser engraving/cutting marking systems are not yet automatic, as in you still need someone to load materials into the system and send the job. Still, ease of use and quality marks make up for what may currently be lacking for some manufacturers. Plus, you never know what the future will hold at Epilog.

8. What do you consider the benefits of a buying an Epilog engraver, compared to other laser engraving equipment manufacturers?

There’s more competition than ever in the laser market, so we really focus on a few things to stand out. First, engraving quality has always been something we’ve taken a lot of pride in. With our systems you’re able to engrave the highest quality images even at the highest speeds. When you take a look at our Aztec calendar sample, it really shows this off – we can engrave this incredibly detailed image at a very small size with our standard lens, even at 100% speed.

Aztec calendar engraved by an Epilog Laser machine

The reason that we’re able to achieve this higher quality engraving really goes back to the quality of the components that we use in our systems and the speed at which we can fire our laser tube. At Epilog you’re going to talk to employees that have been around 15, 20, even 25 years, because they love the company and they put a lot of pride into the systems that we design. From the production line to the technical support department to the sales team, everyone believes in putting out the best product possible so that our customers can be successful.

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