LASER Use Results
The fact that 32 percent of survey respondents reported using laser welders in their operations is no doubt linked to the laser manufacturers’ continuing efforts to scale down the size and price of the technology. The recent introduction of benchtop laser welders in the $20,000 range has made a once-unattainable machine more affordable to smaller companies.
But the two-thirds of survey respondents who have not embraced the technology may still be waiting for prices to come down. Staley thinks the issue for those who haven’t adopted laser technology is largely one of cost. “The fear isn’t that the technology won’t work, but that it’s expensive,” he says. “They worry whether they can pay for it, or whether it will pay for itself. Since smaller companies typically don’t have much disposable cash, they scrutinize the need a little more. Some shops feel they don’t have enough business to afford a laser. Besides, they’ve gotten by so far without having one. And often, the people who write the checks are not the ones doing the repair work, and they see it as more of an expense than an asset.”.
Several of the companies that re-sponded said their lasers were indeed paying for themselves, typically reporting that they recouped their investments in two years or less. In any event, the cost barrier apparently is not permanent. Among the survey respondents who do not currently use lasers, 34 percent said they intend to invest in systems within the next five years, and 6 percent expect to invest within the next year.
Staley bought his laser welder nine years ago for $36,000, and says that it has “more than paid for itself several times over by allowing me to do more work in the same amount of time. I’m also able to do things my competition can’t do, such as repairs on sterling silver and costume jewelry, because they don’t own a laser.”
Among respondents who have taken the plunge into lasers, the survey found that general repairs (36 percent) and fabrication (30 percent) were by far the leading uses. “I’m not surprised that the laser is most used for general repairs,” Staley says. “The laser is a workhorse for a repair shop.”.
It’s worth noting, however, that two of the other usage categories—repairing porosity (11 percent) and repairing areas near heat-sensitive stones (4 percent)—are essential areas in which lasers represent a major technological advance. That’s probably why on a separate survey question asking about the top benefits of laser systems, “repairs near heat-sensitive stones” was cited by 61 percent of respondents. “Accuracy and precision of welds” (67 percent) was ranked as the top benefit.
When it came time to begin reaping these benefits in their own shops, survey respondents who invested in lasers re-ported that the greatest influence in choosing a machine was whether its capabilities matched their needs (39 percent). Only 11 percent of respondents cited price as a contributing factor in their choice of welder. Among the nearly one-third who said that some “other” factor swayed their model selection, “ease of use” combined with some additional factor and company referral or image (e.g., made domestically, reputation, etc.) were the two largest contributors.
Those results puzzled Staley. “I’m surprised that ‘capabilities matched needs’ was the major reason for model selection,” he says. “The technologies are very similar from company to company. Basically, I could do the work I need to do with practically any machine on the market today. In my opinion, the intangibles of customer support, sales staff, reputation, and word of mouth from peers weigh heavily in the decision to buy a laser. And based on my interaction with others in the industry, price is the next factor.”
Most buyers (94 percent) did not select a vendor based on the training capabilities the company offered, yet the majority of laser users (57 percent) said they rely on the vendor to provide training. This may indicate that vendor training is a required, or at least expected, vendor feature.
Only 20 percent of laser users said they were self-taught, which from Staley’s perspective points to a major step for-ward in training. “There was virtually no training available to those of us who bought into the technology nine years ago,” he says. “We figured it out on our own.” But now, “there are seminars put on by the laser companies, some of the repair schools have adopted laser training, and there are bench seminars, magazine articles, and forums available for those who want to learn more.”. From the looks of it, all the talk you hear about technology making inroads in the jewelry industry may be justified. There’s no denying that CAD/CAM and laser welding have a firm foothold in the industry today, and both technologies are poised to continue to attract more and more users—especially as prices go down and the capabilities and accuracy of the technologies improve. If CAD/CAM and laser welders can help jewelers and manufacturers make money by improving quality, efficiency, and customer service, their impact on the jewelry industry today is just the beginning.
MJSA Journal subscribers can find all the results of MJSA’s first-ever Technology Survey in the May issue of MJSA Journal. Click here to subscribe.