What's the difference between a laser plotter and a galvo laser machine?
There are two main types of laser machine: flatbed lasers (ie, 'laser plotter') and galvo lasers. Here at Trotec, we offer both! One of the main differences between these machines is how the laser beam is directed onto the workpiece. In a flatbed laser, the laser beam is directed with the help of mirrors that move across the working area via the x axis and y axis. Alternatively, galvo laser beams are directed by fast moving mirrors within the machine itself.
The biggest difference between a flatbed laser and a galvo laser is how the laser beam itself is directed onto the workpiece. With a flatbed laser, the beam moves along the x axis and y axis with the help of fixed mirrors. This then results in the laser beam focusing and pointing vertically onto the workpiece. The bigger the machine, the bigger the processing area.
A galvo laser beam is directed onto two highly dynamic, rotatable mirrors of low inertia. These move with galvanometer drives, which is where the name 'galvo' comes from. Hardly any masses are accelerated this way, so the laser beam can be directed over the workpiece at a very high speed with high precision and consistency. The marking field is defined by the deflection angle and focal length of the machine's optics.
When it’s time to decide which laser system you’re going to purchase - a flatbed laser or a galvo laser - your intended application will primarily determine which system you should be leaning towards. The following comparison outlines what to consider when it's time to make that big decision.
- The Working Area
Flatbed laser machines typically have larger working areas than galvo lasers. Trotec's laser machines have working areas that range from 457mm x 305mm all the way up to 2.2m x 3.2m. These working areas are specifically designed for large parts, or lots of small parts, all at once. The size of your machine will usually determine the working area - the bigger the machine, the bigger the working area! For models with 'pass-through' technology, it is also possible to insert and process parts that are larger than the specified working area.
Trotec's available galvo laser machines have working areas that range up to 310mm x 310mm (fiber) and 500mm x 500mm (CO2). These sizes refer to the marking area alone - not the entire laser machine. By mounting the galvo laser on an axle system (x, y) of a laser workstation, working areas can grow to about 1100mm x 600mm. Galvo laser machine let you choose whether you would like to use the housing components or not. This means that large and bulky parts can be marked as well.
- Production Environment & Speed
Most of the time, flatbed lasers are operated as stand-alone machines. This means that they work independently from other production machines. This process usually goes as follows: materials are taken to the laser machine, materials are processed, materials are removed and then either post-processed or sold as they are. The processing time can vary depending on your application and the machine you are using. Some jobs may only take a few seconds, and others will take much longer. It is common for an operator to work with and manage several machines at a time. While one machine is processing a job, other machines are being loaded and prepared for processing.
Galvo lasers are high-speed machines that usually process individual jobs in a mere few seconds. To maximise production capacity and reduce loading/unloading downtime, galvo laser machines are available as semi-automatic work stations with round-tables. The compact nature of a galvo laser machine means that they can even be integrated into a production line. This, in turn, means that a huge amount of parts can be processed in a very short amount of time. Additionally, galvo laser machines can be almost completely automated using sophisticated conveyor belts and other handling systems.
Trotec's flatbed laser machines come standard with an easy-to-use laser software called JobControl® that is 100% compatible with any graphics program. This means that you can use whatever your usual graphics program is (CorelDRAW, Photoshop, AutoCAD, Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Word / Excel, etc). Then, all you need to do is send your design to the laser machine using the printer driver - it is here that your graphics are converted into a real object or impression!
All Trotec's galvo laser machines come standard with a highly flexible, innovative and power laser software called SpeedMark. As intelligent and sophisticated as SpeedMark is, it remains to be a user-friendly and easy-to-use software that allows for the creation of individual program sequences. The best part? You can still do everything you need to without any special programming knowledge. This includes indexing serial numbers, time stamps, list processing, variable handling and much more.
- Laser Cutting
Due to the design of a flatbed laser machine, the laser beam will always hit the material perpendicularly. This ensures a straight edge every single time. This is very important when processing thick materials like acrylic, MDF or wood products. Perfect and straight edges are the mark of high-quality manufacturing, and this can be a requirement for some jobs. For example, if pieces need to be joined together or connected, correct and accurate laser cutting is a must.
Speed is a galvo laser machine's best quality, and it is especially noticeable and valued when working with thin materials like paper, cardboard, foils and slim laminates. A galvo laser can be anywhere between 10 - 65 x quicker than that of a flatbed laser machine, depending on the chosen application. However, depending on the position of your material within the marking field, the laser beam can hit the material at a greater or lesser angle of inclination. So, in the case of thicker materials, the slope of the cutting process is clearly visible.
To achieve the best possible results every time, all your applications need their own configuration. For example, things like lenses and processing tables can have a substantial effect on your finished product. Flatbed laser machines have an unbeatable advantage when working with a wide range of individual engraving and cutting tasks. They can adapt quite fast and will always provide a great level of flexibility for each application.
Galvo laser machines are usually purchased for very specific applications, and the unit itself will always be optimised for that application. Integration into ERP systems is certainly achievable with these kinds of machines, along with the marking of dynamic content like serial numbers, time stamps, lists and more. A high level of automation helps with the marking process and throughput time of these machines too.
- Trotec laser machines are available with a CO2 or fiber laser source. You also have the option of a duel-source laser machine - a Speedy flexx. This patented technology allows for a CO2 and fiber laser beam to be activated alternately within the one machine, all with the simple click of your mouse - no manual changes necessary. This provides you with amazing flexibility. The sky is your only limit!
- We have a large range of entry level CO2 laser machines available, including the Rayjet series and the Speedy series of machines. These laser plotters are economically advantageous, even for low quantities of work. Not to mention, these machines are incredibly user-friendly - no additional or prior knowledge is required for operation.
- Our machines are compatible with all popular graphics programs. Remember, the laser software works like a printer driver. So, all you need to do is click 'print' and you're ready to go!
- The extremely high focus tolerance will provide you with tremendous benefits when working with products that may not be 100% plane. This might include things like tools, jewellery, mechanical components, medical imbruements or advertising materials.
- You can engrave deeply into metal. This is not possible with most other laser units on the market. Usually, this is done with mechanical engraving, but Trotec’s galvo lasers can do lots of amazing things…
- It is also very easy to achieve a black discolouration when marking anodised aluminium, without the use of additional marking consumables like pastes and sprays. So, no post-processing is necessary.
- With the correct knowledge at your disposal, certain galvo machines can reproduce different colours on steel and anodised aluminium - this is called colour annealing marking. Read more about it here.