AILU INTERVIEW - MAKING LASER CUTTING MORE aFFORDABLE Interview with Carlos Gonzalez Lee Managing Director of MSS Lasers 


As an independent service provider for laser cutting machine users in the UK, how successful have you been in competing with the service provided by the machine manufacturers themselves, both for routine servicing and breakdown repair?

By listening to customers and delivering on our promises we have been extremely successful. We provide a quick response, qualified personal, communication with customers and a strong dedicated telephone technical support line. We treat all customers equally, whether big or small and are always prepared to go the extra mile , something the larger service organisations don't always provide. 

What assurance can you give a customer that a machine serviced by a mss engineer is as safe to use afterwards as it would be if the machine manufacturer carried out the service?  

All our engineers have been trained on all hazards presented by laser machines (lasers radiation, high voltage etc.) and the training is on-going, with regular refreshers and updates when necessary.Our company policy is to leave the machine in a safe manner, so if we discover that machine guards, interlocksor safety equipment have been compromised, we return the machine to a safe condition, notify the senior managers within the company and record the work done on the SVR. We are aware of some fatal accidents in the UK over the last few years so we take Health and Safety very seriously.

In AILU's annual service satisfaction survey, the issue that most members complain about is the high cost of replacement parts.  How are you able to compete with the original machine manufacturers in this regard?

We do have to purchase some critical components from the machine tool manufacturers and, like laser end users, we find some of the prices very high. Unfortunately it seems that, for all laser machines built outside of the UK, the parent company retains the profit margin on sales abroad. The subsidiaries in the UK then “mark up” the parts again.  MSS have become very resourceful in sourcing non-critical components elsewhere at much lower cost; the savings are passed on to our customers. Also, we refurbish machines as part of our business, which allows us to supply reconditioned or repaired units at a more cost effective price. 

Increasingly the high cost of labour is surely making it uneconomical to diagnose and repair complex items; for these it is best to simply replace the faulty sub-system,  Do the sub systems of laser cuttings machines (e.g. power supplies, computer control) fall into this category?

Indeed they do and I question the logic, especially with some of these components costing in excess of £10,000. The use of reconditioned units can alleviate these costs, keep downtime and labour costs to a minimum.

For many years the economics of the highly competitive laser job shop business in the UK seems to show that it was better to buy a new machine, work it hard and sell it on after a few years; rather than keep the machine and repair it when it breaks down.  What is your view on this business model and where are your main markets for refurbished laser cutting machines?

I can understand a laser job shop business needing to replace an old and unreliable machine, especially in light of the points raised above regarding component costs charged by manufacturers. However, I question the need to buy a“new” machine. If you can purchase a fully refurbished machine complete with warranty for say half the cost of a new machine with a similar or identical spec, then you would need to have a lot of downtime and repair costs for it to be an uneconomical choice. With so much uncertainty in the economy, there is a benefit to keeping monthly HP or lease payments to a minimum;. With this in mind we have set up a new Finance company (Manufacturing Finance Solutions Ltd. ) that offers very flexible finance vehicles. Our 12 month rental contract with an option to purchase has proven to be a very popular product. You are not committed to a 5 year HP or lease agreement, so if you don’t have the work at the end of the 12 months agreement you can send the machine back. However, if there is still plenty of work to do on the machine you can continue to rent it for another 12 months or purchase it. If you are unsure about purchasing a refurbished machine then you can “try it before you buy it”.

Fibre laser cutting machines employ very different technologies to their CO2 laser counterparts and laser safety concerns durig servicing are very different too.  Are you concerned about the growth of interest in fibre laser cutting?

We are not too concerned at this time. I don't doubt that fibre lasers are here to stay but the jury is out over whether the CO2 will be replaced altogether. Like any forward thinking business we are following very closely to see where it all goes and how it fits our business model.

The case for using Nitrogen Generators to provide assist gas for laser cutting seems clear enough when making a dedicated product, since the discolouration caused by the small amount of oxygen in the assist gas can be properly assessed and hopefully shown to be unimportant.  However, many laser cutting job shops remain reluctant to adopt nitrogen generators.

This is not true: we have installed approximately 60 systems into UK subcontractors compared to only 40 installed at companies with a dedicated product. Because they are sized correctly, purity and oxygen contamination have not been issues with our systems. Where a cut edge is required to achieve the same standard as for bottle banks and liquid gas, we supply our high purity systems. The cost to produce the higher purity nitrogen is higher so it is a little more difficult to get a ROI under 3 years. However, nitrogen generators are generally self-financing using money otherwise spent on ready-made nitrogen, which iseffectively a consumable. Even with an extended ROI of 4-5 years, after the unit is purchased you produce nitrogen at a fraction of the cost of liquid or MCP’s with an identical purity.

Are you finding a sufficient pool of experience service engineers to fill your needs? Have you experienced a shortage of suitably trained engineers in the UK?

There is indeed a shortage of experienced service engineers and it is a major concern. In particular, we have topay higher wages to retain them, which squeezes our margins and this in turn reflects in the hourly rates charged to the end user.Seasoned service engineers with the necessary technical ability may nevertheless lack the right attitude towards customer service and a willingness to go the extra mile for a client; things we regard as very important. In an attempt to address this we have recently taken on two new apprentice service engineers. As well as teaching them the technical skills required, we are also trying to instil the right attitude at a young age. Technical ability can always be taught if they have the right attitude to clients. As these young engineers pass up through the ranks we will hopefully begin to eliminate the general problem.

How do you see the laser cutting machine market developing in the UK in terms of machine technology and performance and machine reliability and complexity?

I think that sales of fibre laser cutting machines will continue to grow for the next few years. Fibre laser sources are more reliable that their CO2 laser counterparts, with no complicated machine alignment etc. to deal with. Currently, when things go wrong with the fibre laser the manufacturers are pushing for a complete unit (e.g. diode laser block) replacement. Although this means that fixing machines will be relatively easy and independent of how complex the box of tricks is, the downside is that repair bills will be high.

More News