Marking and engraving technology has come a long way in recent years. Modern laser engraving capabilities have made it faster and easier for manufacturers to identify parts, track them through the manufacturing process, and trace them back to their origin.
And in a time when regulations and customer demands are at an all-time high, a marking and traceability system is like insurance – an investment to protect your company against current and future risks. For an increasing number of manufacturers and suppliers, these risks include defective materials, production inefficiencies, lack on inventory control, counterfeiting, and product recalls
For a successful traceability system, you need three key criteria:
- A permanent, readable mark on the part in the form of a unique identifier, usually a 1D or 2D barcode containing manufacturing data (lot number, serial number, etc.)
- Software to connect your marking system to you database, so that the data can be stored and accessed on demand for track and trace purposes
- Ability to analyze the data for insights to optimize your production and distribution processes and enhance your productivity
The first step is adding permanent identification, which has become much more approachable (and affordable) thanks to things like streamlined laser marking workstations
. Advances in communication technology have even enabled marking and engraving systems to integrate directly into factory automation networks using industrial protocol
Whether or not you’re operating a traceability system right now, you probably know that there are several options available, including laser and dot peen permanent marking systems or non-permanent options such as labels, ink, or tags
. While the latter have been go-to solutions in the past, today’s permanent marking technologies ensure that your data remains on your parts from assembly all the way through final delivery to your customers.
Advantages of Laser Marking and Engraving
Laser marking systems, thanks to their flexibility and precision, provide a multitude of cost-saving benefits to manufacturers, including:
Reduce Human Error
When your manufacturing process isn’t running like a well-oiled machine, mistakes can be made – costly mistakes. Automated processes like laser marking replace error-prone manual ones, allowing you to capture, store, and manage information automatically and prevent quality issues before they occur.
Decrease Recall and Warranty Claim Costs
In 2022, over one billion units were recalled, thanks, in part, to supply chain issues, inflation, and a host of other factors. As pressure mounts from end users and federal regulatory legislation to increase traceability, manufacturers’ inaction to improve their track and trace capabilities may prove even more costly.
Traceability allows you to accurately analyze root cause of product or part failure to recover costs from liable suppliers as well as show full transparency to regulatory bodies and end-users. Laser marking also protects against counterfeiting and diverted goods because it produces unique permanent marks that help authenticate products.
There are a number of direct and indirect expenses to recalls and warranty claims such as:
- Removing product from the market
- Contacting customers
- Replacing or reimbursing for product
- Paying legal fees
- Brand reputation damage
- Advertising to recover market share
- Increased regulatory testing
- Liability fees
Increase Production Speed and Efficiency
Laser engraving is a fast and simple process. Laser marking does not involve a physical tool impacting the surface, nor does it transmit ink or any other substance onto the surface. Instead, the laser light is focused onto a material, which in turn produces a contrasting mark or a deep mark, depending on the settings you use.
In recent years, innovative laser marking and engraving technologies have propelled traceability into the next generation. Automated systems allow you to create a unique mark, store data within your database or ERP, and access that data whenever needed. Advanced communication packages enable laser systems to integrate directly into your industrial network. Products like MECCO’s EtherMark can reduce the typical 30-80+ hours of programming and integration work that other marking systems require down to as little as 8 minutes.
Minimize Consumables Costs
Non-permanent marking methods require you to stock materials like ink and solvent, which need to be replaced regularly. In high-volume manufacturing environments, laser marking only costs about $0.02 per mark, compared to $0.07 – $0.09 per mark for ink or labels, according to one 2008 independent study with an automotive manufacturer. Today, the consumable cost for ink or labels will still far exceed the initial cost of a laser.
Enhance Mark Quality/Permanence
Laser marks are more durable and consistently readable than non-permanent marking alternatives for a wide variety of applications, from industrial traceability to branding, on materials such as steel, copper, aluminum, plastic, ceramic, and brass. Lasers can also provide low or high contrast marks to meet your visual standards through a range of settings.
Promote Inventory Control
Once the mark is on the part and linked to the database, it’s connected permanently to your operations. Your database ensures you always know what you have on hand, and that data can be accessed in real time. This eliminates the hours required to dig through aging reports and prevent costly waste or overproduction.
Time is money, and the benefits of laser marking can help you put more of that money to your bottom line.
There is a wide range of laser marking products available
, depending on your application, materials, integration needs, and other criteria. You and your marking equipment provider should work together to decide if a laser or dot peen marking system
will best meet the needs of your operation.