Is it better to send out the laser-cutting portion of a job to manufacturers who specialize in that kind of work and pay their laser cutter prices? Or does it make more cents (sorry) to buy the machinery and keep the revenue?
Sounds like a simple enough question. But when you perform a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis, things can get a bit fuzzy when it comes to laser cutter cost per hour.
Laser Cutter Prices & Cost Per Hour: More Than Meets the Eye
Laser cutters aren’t cheap, of course, ranging from around $200,000 to $500,000. They’re also not the only cost to be considered when figuring out the profits from doing the work in-house.
Other laser cutting price considerations include:
- Labor costs to operate the equipment and any other work required by the process
- Operating costs for power, consumables, tooling, repairs, and maintenance
- Expenses associated with buying the laser cutter, such as monthly payments and how much the machinery’s value will depreciate by the time you want to sell it.
The Real Problem: Time
It’s important to note that these cost issues are related to time -- hourly wages for workers, hours spent repairing and maintaining equipment, monthly payments to have the machinery in the shop.
Figuring out the cost per hour for using an in-house machine is a lot more complicated. There are several factors involved:
- For how long is the laser cutting machinery idle during a work day? Can you keep the machinery producing for 18 to 24 hours a day to achieve peak efficiency?
- How much does a kilowatt hour of electricity cost? Without electricity, there’s no laser.
- How long does it take to cut through a given thickness of steel? The thicker the material, the longer it takes for a laser to cut it. Time is money. It might be better to use another kind of cutting technology if your material’s super thick.
The point is to try to look at all variables before deciding to invest in machinery rather than outsourcing the work and avoiding those complications.
Outsourced or In-House? It All Depends
The merits of outsourcing vs. bringing laser cutting in-house depend on the kind of work a particular fabricator does. If the component requires a lot of complex cutting and tight tolerances, it might be worth it to bring the process in-house. This would allow the highest level of quality control and help remove another often-ignored cost -- fixing screw-ups. The alternative, of course, it to find a reliable metal fabricator and outsource the headache.
The cost per hour of bringing laser cutting in-house will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. To find out if it’s a good move to outsource, those manufacturers who are already doing their own cutting might do well to send out a few small projects to see how the costs and quality stack up. For manufacturers who are considering moving cutting in-house for the first time, there’s no easy way to decide. It’s a matter of doing that dreaded cost/benefit analysis and being thorough.
We advise any manufacturer thinking about taking laser cutting inside to reduce cost per hour to have a candid conversation with a fabricator who knows the process and what goes into laser cutter prices. It’s the best place to start.