If you think you might have project that requires laser services, such as cutting, welding, drilling, etching, grinding, or polishing, there are certain things you should find out before moving forward — especially if you are not an expert in this field yourself, or if you only have limited experience working with a laser services partner. You’ll need to ask questions. Then again, even knowing the right questions to ask requires at least some level of expertise. So, how are you supposed to know what you don’t know?
The answer to that question is that your laser services provider should assist you, as we are about to do in this article. Giving you the information you need for a successful project not only helps you; it also helps us. In fact there is probably no single factor more important to a successful project than an educated customer. It means that the project will go more smoothly, there’ll be fewer misunderstandings and less wasted materials, turnaround will be faster, and the project will come in within budget. It also means you’ll more likely become a repeat customer and that you’ll refer us to other customers.
So, here are the six most important questions we think you should ask your laser services partner before giving them your project:
Some projects are more ideally suited for laser than others — and which projects are or are not good candidates for laser might surprise you. Contrary to what Hollywood might make you believe, lasers can’t cut through every material — and there are limits in terms of thickness for materials lasers can cut. On the other hand, some materials may just not be suitable for lasering. If it’s a welding job, you should know that some materials do not weld together. There are lots of other factors that go into whether or not the project is appropriate for laser, and your vendor should be able to go down the list and explain why or why not laser is a good fit for you. And if it is not, then the vendor should be able to suggest alternative technologies that might serve your needs better.
This question brings up another question: What is guaranteed? Is it the cost of the project? Is it the cost of the material if the material is damaged? Is it the cost to the customer’s business (perhaps in lost business) if the finished parts are not completed on time and up to spec? Also, what type of guarantee is offered? Is it a refund? Is it a credit toward another project?
There is usually no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. A lot has to do with risk, and the vendor should have a formal risk assessment program in place to determine risk. A reputable vendor will tell you if the project is high risk — risk that the work cannot be done, that it cannot be done within the specified time or budget, that your materials might be damaged, and so on. Generally, the higher the risk, the less of a guarantee will be offered — a credit, for example, rather than a refund, or maybe no guarantee at all.
Nothing beats real-world experience, especially when it comes to dealing with customers in particular industries. Working in medical products calls for a different kind of experience, for example, than does working in aerospace. Different industries have their own vocabulary, business practices, supply chains, standards of performance, regulations and innumerable other factors that a professional who is experienced in that industry would know. An experienced person will be able to recommend solutions to problems that someone with less experience probably would not think of. They will also understand immediately why certain methods and practices that work well in one industry might be out of the question in another.
By the way, a good measure of whether a vendor is right for your industry is whether the vendor has the appropriate certifications. Is the vendor ISO 9100 certified, for example? What about AS9100 (Aerospace Management Systems Quality Standard)? Are they ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulation) certified?
Deep experience in the customer’s industry is critical, but so is deep experience in many different industries. A range of experience means that the professional is less likely to be locked into “me too” thinking and more willing to consider creative alternatives — or more likely to borrow an approach that worked well for another customer. Just having to deal with a wide variety of problems across many industries makes the environment much more conducive to problem solving in general — so customers in all industries benefit.
As noted in a previous blog article, there are advantages to dealing with a provider who offers a wider range of services. In addition to cutting or welding, let’s say, do you also need assembly? What about packaging? Inventorying? Surface finishing? You might not even think of every service the service provider can actually provide — so ask the vendor. Using the same vendor for multiple services can cut down on paperwork, reduce finger pointing, improve quality and help get the project done faster.
The equipment used in laser services is technically sophisticated, expensive, and hard to find — and often also highly customized. So, your vendor should not only be an expert in using this equipment but also an expert in maintaining it and (if needed) repairing it. A good indicator that this is indeed the case is if the vendor didn’t just take the machinery out of the box after it was purchased and set it up, but that they customized or actually even built a lot of the equipment themselves — and if they have the necessary parts on hand and also well-equipped machine shop to handle issues when they do occur.
These are the six top questions we suggest that you ask — partly because they may not be the ones you would have thought to ask yourself. They’re in addition the more obvious ones, like how much does the project cost and when will it be completed. In fact, a really good vendor will most likely bring these questions up without even being asked. It’s a sign they already have the answers — and want to satisfy you, not just sell to you.