Close

Using a Laser for Marking Material

Using a Laser for Marking Material

laser marked partIf you’re looking for a way to permanently mark industrial or commercial parts then this post may be one you’ll want to read.  Whether you want to ensure traceability or boost branding, laser marking systems are cost effective and highly flexible. Laser marking technologies can mark and etch almost any material and surface.

Laser marking systems are a very common choice for permanent product identification as well as applications where product traceability is paramount. Laser marking can encode a wide variety of information, like:
- 1 and 2 dimensional bar codes
- 2D data matrices
- Material flow information
- Graphics and manufacturers’ logos
- Production date codes
- Serial numbers
- …and anything else you might want to adorn your parts with!

Laser marking is a broad field, with many different options. Most industrial laser marking systems are Nd:YAG, CO2, or diode based.

Fiber laser marking machines use an optical fiber to deliver the beam from an Nd:YAG or diode laser to the material, which allows for considerable flexibility. There are even hand held laser marking devices (currently being used by the Russian auto industry for VIN engraving) that use fiber optics to deliver the beam to a hand held marking unit. This allows for marking even very odd-shaped surfaces.

Laser marking occurs primarily using infrared wavelengths at 10,640nm and 1064nm. Marking systems may operate at power levels as low as 3 watts (for very sensitive materials) and as much as 200 watts or more (for high speed marking and highly reflective metals).

No matter the technology or the power level, laser marking systems require very little maintenance and can be run from a standard PC, accepting drawings in CorelDRAW and AutoCAD.

Laser marking technologies can process:
- Metals
- Ceramics
- Plastics
- Composites

as well as
- Coated,
- Bare,
- and painted surfaces.

Laser marking can be used to apply:
- Text
- Logos
- Bar codes
- Graphics
- ID matrices

…and laser marking can serialize parts and tags to aid in process tracking or identification too.

Laser marking has seen wide adoption in the automotive, aerospace, electronics, and medical industries, where the ability to mark a broad variety of materials very precisely without contact is highly prized.

Many production lines use laser marking to replace older, maintenance-intensive dye or impact-based systems.

The promotional industry and custom gift markets have adopted laser marking wholeheartedly, quickly grasping the tremendous possibilities inherent in being able to engrave high resolution text and graphics in nearly any surface.


CerMark / TherMark

Traditional laser engraving or marking leaves behind a rough area in the desired marking pattern, as if it had been sand-blasted through a mask or (in the case of heat sensitive materials like wood) burned with a wood burning iron.

It is often desirable to create colored markings. In the case of metals, the ability to create a highly durable colored marking is valuable. This is where CerMark/Thermark materials come in. These are thermally bonded pigments. Like regular laser marking, they are permanent and both tamper- and environment- resistant.  See a video of laser marked metal using Cermark below:

Using them is quite simple. The pigment is sprayed on evenly. The material is then engraved / processed as normal. The heat of the laser changes the pigment color to the final desired one and bonds it to the surface in one step.

Instead of using labels or printing technologies, Cermark / Thermark allows you to permanently mark the parts with the same contrast and resolution of your previous solution.

Whereas direct laser marking has limited contrast and works poorly with some surfaces (particularly chromed ones), Cermark / Thermark has enough contrast to be machine readable and is capable of bonding to substrates that are very poor at ordinary laser marking.


Laser Marking Services

If the capital expenditure of a laser marking machine is not within the budget at the moment, laser marking services are available that will process your parts on a per-job basis. Your local engraving shop probably offers at least surface marking and engraving. 

Depending on their equipment and capabilities, they may be able to handle plastics, rubber, anodized aluminum, stainless, titanium, or even bare aluminum. If their laser can handle your parts, they can mark logos and graphics next to serial numbers too.

Your local laser marking service will have plenty of experience with different materials. They’ll be used to handling custom work as well as production orders. For high resolution or detailed texts, they will be able to say if their machine has the tolerances needed to do the job. There may even be an in-house graphic designer to help with your logo, if you need a hand.