The Evolution of Benchtop Laser Welders
Not that long ago, purchasing a laser welder would set you back USD $40,000 or more. In those days, laser welders were large, pedestal-style machines that offered a maximum output of only 75 Joules of weld energy. Despite the large space requirements, the high price tag, and 75 Joule max-power output, early adopters with the means to purchase one of those welders will tell you that “buying a laser welder was the best investment I ever made, and I only regret I didn’t buy it earlier.”
Sometime around 2007, laser manufacturers started building benchtop units designed to fit on a tabletop. The benchtop revolution produced smaller, lighter, and more affordable units than the pedestal laser welders. The space-saving features did have their trade-offs, though: The first benchtop welders had a max-power output of 25 Joules. You might be thinking, ‘who would buy such a unit? It only has 25 Joules?’
But your initial thought would be mistaken.
Benchtop units revolutionized the laser welder market, similar to how tablet and laptop computers have replaced the larger, immobile desktop PCs. Few, if any, complained about the low power output of only 25 Joules. Instead, they gushed about the compact design, and somehow, 25 Joules gave them enough power to make the welds they needed to make.
Let us fast forward to 2021. If you go shopping today for a laser welder, you can still find some pedestal-style welders, but most laser welders will be a benchtop model. Prices have come down considerably while the max-output power has dramatically increased. If buying a 75 Joule pedestal laser for $40,000 was the best investment some ever made, it is a wonder that people today balk at a laser welder at a considerably lower price. For example, at the time of writing, Sunstone offers a 75 Joule benchtop welder for $14,900. What a steal!
But let me acknowledge that $14,900 is still a significant amount of money, and everyone I know has more than just a laser welder on their wish list. Even with all the reasons to buy a laser today, for some, it might not be the right timing, or it might not fit the budget, or there might not be enough space to house the laser. If you can relate to the hurdles of budget or space limitations, you may be in luck! Technological advancements are constantly driving prices down while simultaneously expanding feature sets.
Introducing the Budget Laser Welder
The first actual budget laser welder, the Dado, came to market in 2019. The development process of the Dado was a bit unusual. Rather than starting with a list of features, capabilities, and competitive analysis, and then establishing margins and a retail price, this development project began with a target retail price and then worked backward, incorporating as many features as possible while still maintaining the target retail price. The Dado is not the flashiest welder available, nor does it have a never-ending list of features, but it is an awe-inspiring machine considering how much it offers for how little it costs.
In the first year of sales, the Dado quickly exceeded sales projections. Even though the target customer was the small shop that could benefit from laser welding technology but that previously could not justify the expense, big-name companies also jumped at the opportunity to buy a Dado welder. These big companies exponentially increased the number of laser welding stations in their facilities, for a minimal investment. In short order, larger companies significantly reduced production costs thanks to the Dado.
The Competition Fires Back
In response to the Dado’s success, other budget laser welders entered the market soon thereafter. Orotig S.p.A., an established player in the laser welder market, introduced the MiDi and the Neutec PulsePoint™ Studio™ Plus 25, two budget laser welders designed to compete with the Dado’s price and small footprint.
How do they stand up to the Dado?
While the MiDi and PulsePoint Studio have sold well, they fall short in beating the Dado in price and footprint. In terms of power and adjustability, the Dado offers up to 10.8 Joules of energy with 12 unique power settings. The MiDi and PulsePoint Studio, in comparison, provide 20 and 30 Joules respectfully but have only nine available power settings. The spot size adjustment options are equal (0.3-1.3mm) for all models and are adjusted manually via a lever or knob inside the weld chamber. The most significant difference remains the price. The Dado sells for USD $4,200. The MiDi and Neutec sell for USD $7,500 and USD $7,995, respectfully.
“If I were to simplify the buying decision for budget laser welders, I would group the Dado and the Orotig’s together in terms of features and capabilities,” my long-time colleague, Jonathan Young, said in deep thought. “And in that case, I think the Dado wins in every time based solely on price. If you have the budget to spend more, I will say that buying the LZR35 over the Orotig options is a no-brainer.”
What We Can Learn from Orotig
If there is anything to be learned from the Orotig lasers, it is that a market exists for that spot between the Dado and high-end models. Shops everywhere will be attracted to a more powerful, more capable model than what the Dado offers, yet less powerful and less capable than what the higher-end benchtop laser welders provide.
Enter the Orion LZR35 laser welder from Sunstone. The LZR35 was unveiled at the JCK jewelry show in 2021 and was an immediate success. The LZR35 fits perfectly in Sunstone’s laser product offering, nestled snugly between the Dado and the more powerful LZR75 benchtop laser welder.
The LZR35 provides up to 35 Joules of max weld energy and allows for complete customization and selection of both weld power and weld time, resulting in 5,000 power settings versus the 9 or 12 available on the other budget laser welders. The LZR35’s user interface consists of a 7” full-touchscreen display with a digitally controlled, motorized spot size adjustment for precise and repeatable welds. The spot size adjustment ranges from 0.2-2.0mm.
The LZR35 looks and acts like its more powerful LZR cousins, given that its feature set closely mimics those found on the higher-powered benchtop laser welders. The only aspect of the LZR35 that can be labeled as “budget” is the price tag: USD $9,900. See the included comparison chart for a complete side-by-side comparison of the LZR35 and the other budget laser welders.
What’s the Big Deal?
After so many words, my point is simple: Affordable access to advanced welding technologies and robust feature sets has never been greater. Arguably, anyone in need of a budget laser welder can find one that fits their needs, whether based on affordability (Dado at USD $4,200) or on getting the most bang-for-your-buck (LZR35 at USD $9,900).
The data in this table was collected from public sources and is subject to change. Blank cells in the table indicate data that could not be found or verified.