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How Industries Increase Return on Investment by using Fiber Laser Marking for the Imaging Process

Most laser marking techniques involve either engraving the mark into metal or plastic components, or ablating a surface layer to divulge a contrasting elements underside. Both techniques usually entail high energy pulsed laser systems and also involve process debris.

Fiber lasers are nowadays a powerful industrial tool with a different series of abilities that enable a wide range of precision items processing building methods. Fiber lasers offer low running costs, a fast return on investment, a minuscule footprint and outstanding reliability, and are thus utilize a growing acceptance within the laser-assisted building industry as a less expensive alternative to prevalent laser design.

Laser engraving is able to manufacture high contrast, definitively decipherable and lasting identification on a wide variety of components for industrial use or consumer products. Computer generated vector or bitmap patterns (logos, barcodes or text) can be marked or etched using a non-contact Process onto tin-like and nonmetallic items, incorporating metals, plastics, glass, electronics, Pcbs, wafers, medical devices, sporting goods and packaging.

A combination of a proven commercial laser, swift and accurate galvanometric imaging systems and easy computer control supplies manufacturers with a different combination of speed, durability and versatility that cannot be matched by any other etching technique.

Laser marking Techniques
Traditionally, laser marking involves either engraving a physical characteristic onto a surface just as for traditional etching techniques, generating an easy pigment change in surface, or etching of a surface layer of material to display another, largely contrasting layer underneath. Either technique can be used on a broad spectrum of materials, and in addition to generating identifying marks can also form part of an commercial process, for example in electronics manufacture.

The advantages of laser etching include speed, flexibility and the non-contact engraving Process, meaning that elements parts are not fatigued by the marking Process. The non-contact nature of the Process also contributes to low service timetables, as tools do not need to be replaced. In addition laser marking is also largely repeatable and conveniently decipherable (even machine interpretable).

Demanding Quality Control
A laser engraving Process is often used for engraving metal surfaces as it is quick, non contact and very rugged, but is however also responsible for the fabrication of debris - fine tin-like particles taken away from the surface as part of the engraving process.

Normally for bearing manufacture there are tough requirements for process debris. The etching of bearing housings utilizing a laser has thus traditionally combined a "minimal" etching Process with an induced change in surface pigment. CMS had until recently accomplished this utilizing Nd:YAG lasers, but customer interest was looking for a way around the cost, service, lifetime and reliability issues involved with the Nd:YAG design.

For this application CMS engineers have pioneered the use of a fiber laser from SPI Lasers plc of Southampton, UK - most noticeably a 100 W cw/modulated fiber laser most often used for welding and cutting tasks. SPI has been creating fiber lasers for the industrial trade for several years, primarily for items processing operations such as microwelding and microcutting, but also for engraving operations.

Switching to the new fiber laser means creating the same thermally induced high contrast characteristic on the bearing housing, but doing so with less preparation of debris, at reduced raised recast, and at much better manageability to the end-user - meaning almost no maintenance, increased lifetime and phenomenal reliability.

The 100W fiber laser used in this application typifies the ease of use of fiber lasers as a tool for a wide variety of operations - marking operations are normally an application for high energy pulsed lasers, but the performance envelope provided by fiber laser technology permits systems integrators like CMS to redefine these domains.

Benefits of Fiber Lasers
Many distinct laser designs have found their way into items processing applications. Fiber lasers are however revolutionizing numerous of these operations through a mix of reformed optical performance, improved system flexibility, high component yield, long up-time and astonishing reliability.

Imperative to many engraving applications, they do not produce the flaws in spot size performance found in other laser designs - at all power levels, across all pulse sequences and during the entire lifetime of the laser, the spot size remains small, anticipated and consistent.

The small spot size and high beam quality also mean high irradiance at the focus, so making tools equipped with fiber lasers can produce preferable results quicker and at diminished power levels. The focused beam usually treats only a very little area of material, with the benefit that very little heat is generated in the surrounding area. High quality precision etching, welding and cutting can be performed close (0.1 mm) to the most obscure and complex component parts.

Factoring in the reputable operation and power modulation flexibility, fiber laser technology is now frequently chosen as an upgrade over long-established flash-lamp pumped solid state, or even DPSS laser technology in numerous other laser-assisted industrial manufacture segments. The consistent and enhanced etching performance means reduced service expenses, longer up-times and transformed manufacturing quality with less scrap. Fiber lasers are also notably physically powerful and thus suitable for the most challenging of commercial environments.

All of these factors assimilate to a plug-&-play, service-free architecture for systems integrators looking to reduce development, fabrication and servicing costs, with the added benefit of being able to provide the end user with a more desirable, more convenient product. Finally, the end user will be able to focus on their business demands rather than having to become laser maintenance authorities.

Advantages for Commercial Manufacturers
In general, the choice of tooling for any application comes down to determining the mandatory performance followed by a trade-off between fundamental outlay, component yield, uptime and service.

Not only are component assemblies becoming increasingly more difficult but, at the same time, more and more interests are being placed on their quality and functionality. The arrangement of making tools equipped with fiber lasers to intensify Process control can thus bring worthwhile financial benefits for any manufacturer. Merged with the small footprint, such tools can also open up techniques that were before out of reach for some manufacturers.

About the Author: Richard Stevenson is the Sales Director for Control Micro Systems, Inc. a manufacturer of beam-steered laser engraving systems. He has published and presented numerous technical papers and articles on laser marking in trade publications. For information on Laser Welding, Etching, Cutting, Engraving or Drilling call 407-679-9716.

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