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When it’s time to purchase new laser projectors, the choice of which projectors to buy often simply comes down to cost. But that’s where the simple part ends! Though the projectors themselves may look pretty similar from vendor to vendor, their actual value is determined by the answers to three primary questions:
- How much equipment and software must I purchase to meet my fabrication demands?
- What else do I need to pay for?
- How much does the system reduce my operating costs?
When 3D laser projection systems were first introduced to the fabrication floor three decades ago, the answers to these questions may have been pretty similar among the various vendors. But now that technologies and purchase plans have diverged, it’s important to give each of these questions a fresh look today. Here are some factors to consider as you evaluate new laser projection investments for your company.
Evaluating initial cost
With 1990s first-generation laser projection systems, the cost per projector was a reasonable criterion for laser projector evaluation, since the number of projectors you would need to meet your shop floor requirements would likely be about the same no matter the vendor. Today, however, the number of projectors – as well as the number of controllers and seats of software – varies widely depending on the system’s multitasking capabilities.
Nearly every laser projection system vendor will tell you that they offer multitasking, but the value of multitasking is in its actual application. Is it multitasking that your shop floor personnel will actually use? How much of a headache is it to implement? Additionally, what level of multitasking does the laser projection system actually support? As a point of reference, LASERGUIDE multitasking supports four jobs per projector and eight jobs per controller. And it has been designed with an easy-to-use, intuitive user interface.
Evaluating ongoing costs
How much will your laser projection system really cost you over the next two years? Five years? Ten years? Does the vendor charge annual licensing and/or service fees? What kind of warranty does the vendor offer? Does each consultation or service call come with a price tag? And what about downtime as your laser projectors are serviced – what is the typical turnaround time, and are loaners made available?
Finally, how long will your vendor continue to support the laser projectors you buy today? Aligned Vision supports every projector our customers still use, no matter its age. Other vendors have a history of leaving their customers with projector “orphans,” so that all-new projectors must be purchased down the road to continue using their system.
Factoring each of these ongoing costs into your laser projector evaluation is at least as important as the initial cost of the laser projection system.
Evaluating cost savings
As you evaluate the cost of a laser projection system, or any manufacturing equipment for that matter, your return on investment is another critical consideration. Will your purchase eventually pay for itself in operational savings on your shop floor? Does it reduce the cost of rework? Does it reduce the number of components that must be scrapped for not meeting spec? Although some of these costs are hidden, getting folded into your facility’s overhead costs, isolating and assessing them may reveal cost savings critical to your business success.
Factors related to your laser projection system that affect cost savings include:
- Step-away time – A previous blog post discusses how much of your operators’ time is used up not adding value. If they must step away from the tool dozens or hundreds of times per shift to consult paperwork or the control computer about each ply, it shortens the time they are adding value quite a bit.
- User experience – A laser projection system supported by touchscreen remote controls for individual operators improves their efficiency considerably over TV-style remotes or wristbands. Our touchscreen remotes provide electronic work instructions including non-layup steps, which speed operator tasks even more.
- Electronic buyoffs and reports – The savings you accrue from a laser projection system that automatically populates electronic reports are threefold. First, you save the time required of operators to stamp or initial paper travelers. Second, your report does not have to be manually entered into your enterprise system because it is automatically produced in digital form. Third, you eliminate reporting errors, which sometimes cost untold hours as you verify that it is a paperwork and not a fabrication error.
Laser projection systems have been around composites fabrication floors longer than most of the operators, supervisors and engineers who work with them. If your laser projector evaluation criteria have been around that long, too, it is definitely time for an upgrade!