Value of Laser Projection Systems

If improved accuracy setting small parts will help you, a laser guide system for your CNC might be a good long-run investment. September 24, 2006

Does anyone on the board have any experience with the laser projection systems used on CNC's for projecting toolpath and part outlines? Does anyone know the pros or cons, or the cost of system, etc.?

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor A:
We purchased an SL Laser system along with our Homag router almost 2 years ago. Our programmer/operator had worked for a large national office furniture company for many years and they had met with failure every time they tried to implement a laser projection system. He told us we had wasted our money. As it turns out, he loves it! We use it every time we are doing work on pods and occasionally use it on nested sheet goods if we are trying to have center matched grain on parts or are trying to work around defects in the veneers. There is an article in the most recent Cabinetmaker magazine that reports how we and another company use the SL laser system.

As we purchased a package of equipment I never got an actual cost on the laser - it was a showroom demo unit and I believe it was in the $15-17K range. As an owner, this investment is not one that will pay for itself in 1-2 years but over a slightly longer period. We have never hit a pod, we have many fewer defects due to misplacement, and we can pre-size lumber parts to within 1/8" before final machining. The laser needs a dxf path or paths, (or a contour if you are using woodwop) to generate the laser path. A couple of other things - you need a stable place to mount the laser above the table and a certain minimum height above the table to project the laser image. By the way, SL has provided good service along the way.

From contributor B:
We installed a laser projection system from Carter Products when we installed our most recent router about 2 years ago. We primarily manufacture parts for the awards industry, thus our parts tend to be rather small and we use dedicated fixture boards. We have found the laser to be extremely helpful in lining up our parts (typically we oversize our parts by 3/8 of an inch). Probably the biggest advantage with the laser is that it allows our operators to load parts extremely fast and we have eliminated a lot of rejects that were caused by misalignment.

Our laser did start to malfunction after about one year of use. However, Carter Products replaced it with a new one at no charge. The main disadvantage to these systems is the cost. I think we spent between 12 and 13 thousand dollars for our unit. I think you may be able to purchase a demo unit or a used unit from Carter for a little less money.

From contributor C:

I was on the Homag Stiles Euro tech tour this spring and noticed most shops were using the lasers and usually the SL brand. I was impressed with how they work but shocked to find out the price. It looks like it is a key accessory for solid wood, especially doors and windows. I think the argument about longer payoff, reducing the chance of a tool collision and material savings is a good one. We saw some innovative solutions to the low ceiling problem. Sometimes they just recessed the box up into the ceiling.

To contributor A: It sounds like you have a rail and pod machine. Are you using the accessory matrix table to nest? If so, how do you like it and can it be set easy?

From contributor D:
We have the BOF 711 dual table matrix style table. We use 2" high aluminum pods made by NEMI , and made some 4" high pods in house , all of which mount to the matrix table. Our work is very custom, and varies greatly from month to month. This machine had a Z travel of 19" allowing us to attach large aggregates, work on top of pods and still give us working clearance.

From contributor E:
Depending on the type of machine you have, the laser can be a huge benefit or a waste of investment. We have worked with companies that have the NEMI grid table on a flat bed router and for these applications it works great. The main benefit is that it offers a great deal of flexibility in part placement. On the other hand, both SCM and Homag have come out with new pod and rail machines that makes part placement much easier and much faster. They have pre-programmed zones with pop-up stops. For door production, this is pretty hot stuff.