Marking methods: When Lasers make sense
Product identification, serialization and tracking are key elements for any production environment. Parts are labeled with all kinds of marks: alpha-numeric serial numbers, date stamps, barcodes, etc.. There are a lot of marking methods available out there including dot-peen, chemical etching, pad printing, ink-jet printing, and laser marking. As manufacturers of laser markers and laser marking systems, we, of course, believe that there are many good reasons why laser marking makes sense in your manufacturing operation?
Consider these things:
- Do you need one machine to mark both metals and plastics?
- Are your parts fragile?
- Do you need to mark graphics, logos or barcodes?
- Do you need to mark many parts, very quickly?
- Does the mark need to be permanent?
- Would you like to have one machine capable of addressing all of the above?
- Would you like a process with no consumables or maintenance?
If the answer to all or most of the above questions is 'yes' you should seriously consider laser marking.
We're not just saying that because we make lasers - consider the following: Dot-peen is a mechanical marking method, meaning that it marks are made by gouging material using a hardened stylus - it’s cheap and great for simple marks on metals but requires the part to be clamped, is a slow process and cannot mark non metals or fragile parts. Electrochemical etching produces very high quality marks but has very limited mark content flexibility and is suited only to metals. Pad printing is a marking method that transfers an image from a plate via a silicone pad to a part. It is a high volume, low mix technology; fast but not flexible. And ink jet marking, accomplished by spraying small dots of ink directly onto moving parts, is very fast and efficient, but easily worn off, and, therefore, not considered a permanent marking method. This is highly undesirable for markets like automotive, where parts are likely to undergo a significant amount of wear, or medical where ink/chemicals are frowned on. And don't forget the cleaning required in a process which uses ink/chemicals like this. Something to consider if you're trying to go a little more 'green' in your manufacturing processes.
Laser marking, by contrast, is a direct, non-contact marking method which can be used on a variety of materials. For example, fiber laser markers make excellent marks on metals, plastics, and ceramics. It's a clean marking method that doesn't require water, oils, chemicals, or post-processing cleaning. Laser markers can mark fonts, barcodes, and pictures without the need to retool. It has already been established in a wide array of markets, most notably the medical device, automotive, and electronics industries. The picture below shows a wide range of applications for laser marking:
OK, laser markers do cost more to acquire, however, they provide a quick ROI over 1-2 years with added functionality, material flexibility, speed and zero maintenance. Laser markers are continuing to come down in price with so they may not be as expensive as you think!
So, just when DOES a laser marker make sense?
- Your parts are fragile and cannot withstand the percussive nature of a marking method like dot peen
- You have high mix/high volume part marking needs
- You’re working in a high-tech industry (aerospace, automotive, medical, etc.) where permanent, readable marks are imperative
- You’d like your manufacturing process to be a little more ‘green’