Laser part marking technology is becoming more and more important in all realms of manufacturing, from automotive to aerospace and medical industries. This is because of the growing demand from manufacturers and federal regulations to be able to track and trace products throughout their lifecycle.
One of the most common questions we get at MECCO is “How do I choose the right marking technology for my application?” The truth is, marking and engraving technology is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and there are a number of factors that go into choosing the best solution for your application.
So, before you go out and make a large investment in marking equipment for your plant, here are three main considerations to help you in choosing the best laser technology:
Your first consideration is the type of material you’re going to be marking. We like to break materials down into two main classifications: Organic or non-organic.
Organic materials are those like wood, glass, plastic or paper products. Metals, steel, cast aluminum—anything that will spark when you put it into a microwave (although we don’t recommend doing that)—is considered non-organic material.
2. Type of Mark
Now that you’ve determined your material, what do you want the mark to look like? Are you looking for deep marks? Do you want more contrast in your marks?
Depending on the type of marking technology, you can create either a dark or a frosted mark. For instance, if you’re doing barcode technology and struggling with your vision systems’ ability to read the code, you’d want to use frosted backgrounds and dark marks. It’s all about your particular situation and how you want your final product to look.
3. Safety Considerations
Think about where your engraving machine is going to be placed. Will it be on the plant floor near operators, or do you have a dedicated, enclosed space for it? Will this machine be replacing another type of technology such as ink jet?
You should know that if your laser marker will be located on an open shop floor, your laser supplier should help you install a Class I safety system. This includes a laser-safe enclosure and warning lights, curtains to form safe entryways and other safety considerations.
If you have a Class IV laser, you would need a dedicated room that meets certain safety conditions, such as area posting, protective eyewear and a key switch so that it still meets safety requirements.
When to go with CO2 Lasers
In general, if you want to mark product information on organic materials and looking for a non-contrast mark, you may be looking for a CO2 laser marking technology. With a wavelength of 10.6 microns, it is generally safe to use in an open floor situation with Plexiglas shielding. A CO2 marking machine is a good solution in situations when you’re replacing other marking technologies, such as ink jet, dot peen or labeling.
Bottom line: CO2 lasers give you high mark quality and are a cost-effective solution for marking date codes, serial numbers and other product identification on wood, glass, rubber, plastics, cardboard, and product packaging.
When to go with Fiber Lasers
On the other hand, if you’re marking non-organic materials like metal or plastic and want contrast in your mark, fiber laser marking technology may be the best choice for your application. Fiber lasers, at 1 micron wavelength, must be in a separate room or enclosure with doors and must also follow the CDRH (Center for Devices and Radiological Health) safety considerations to make sure anyone working around it is safe.
Bottom line: Fiber mark lasers offer a wide range of capabilities and produce a high-quality mark to engrave serial numbers, bar codes, 2D Data Matrix and graphics on the widest variety of materials, including metals, plastics and ceramics.
When to go with Diode Pumped Lasers
If you’re marking on plastic or anodized aluminum and are looking for a higher contrast mark, look at the diode pumped laser technology. With as much as three times the power of conventional fiber lasers, this laser delivers short pulses that create clean, crisp marks with minimal surface disruption.
Bottom line: Diode pumped lasers deliver razor-sharp, high-contract marks for improved readability on barcodes and scanners and enhanced traceability throughout your process.