For your latest product design, you want to incorporate a company logo and different text and labels on each individual product. For injection molded parts, that could be easy to add into the mold to incorporate the text and logos for every part. The trouble comes when you want to vary the text and designs without having to remove a modular section of the molding tool. If that’s the case, another option may be best: Laser Marking.
Laser marking uses a highly concentrated beam of light directed through the bore of a nozzle and onto a surface meant for marking. Also flowing through that nozzle bore is a compressed gas, such as Oxygen or Nitrogen. The high power density results in rapid heating, melting and partial or complete vaporizing of the marking material. Laser marking machines have three main options that can be used to make your new products unique: deep engraving, simple surface marking, and cutting thin metal for inserts.
Laser Engraving Options
Typically you will be using laser etching with a CNC (computer numerical control) machine that can direct the laser with high accuracy. CNC laser machines are used for engraving materials such as steel, alloys, aluminum, copper, gold, silver, iron, brass, and non-metal materials like wood, acrylic, leather, fabric, paper, foam, PVC, plastic, and glass. The laser marking machine application industry is mainly aimed at cloth, leather, wood products, ceramics, and metal products currently, but soon will start be utilized heavily for non-metals like plastic.
A clear benefit for using a laser marking machine on your plastics is to easily change the text or logo as-needed without major tooling adjustments. Engraving can quickly mark text, serial numbers, part numbers, company or brand logos, bar codes, QR Codes, ID matrix codes or 2D codes. The surface can also vary between plain (no coating), painted, anodized, or plated metal surfaces, and can be flat sheets, curved surfaces, or cylinders.
Laser engraving machines can quickly create your text or logo and the laser can moves as fast as 500mm (19.6 inches) per second. The depth of the engraving will be one of the limiting factors to cycle time, so it will be best to strategize how to process pieces efficiently. The laser engraving process removes the surface of the material to expose a cavity that is noticeable to the eye and touch. The process vaporizes the material and creating deep engraving simply requires more passes with the laser. It is a great option to create personalized or customized text and logos. It is not ideal for safety critical parts, and the maximum engraving depth is 0.020″ in metals or 0.125″ in materials such as graphite. It does provide more font options with text, and can be used faster with less chance of product damage or deformation.
Laser Etching Options
Laser etching, or simple surface marking, occurs when the heat from the laser beam causes the surface of the material to melt. This method is kept to a depth of 0.001” maximum, which is less than the engraving option. The melted surface causes a raised mark which can see seen and felt with the fingers. Laser etching can be done on bare, anodized or plated metal surfaces, as well as plastics, polymers and ceramics. It will also slightly change the surface finish of metals by altering the reflectivity and enhances contrast.
One benefit of etching over engraving is speed. The etching machine can run up to three times as fast as the engraving machines due to the depth of the marks. Both will create permanent text or logo on finished parts and components. Another benefit of a laser etching machine is it can erase markings on plastic surfaces and remove paint from a surface.
Cutting Thin Metal
The option to cut thin metal into specific shapes is a growing trend for inserts and extra services. In the past, it would take a CNC plasma cutter or another separate process to cut or stamp metal cleanly. A laser can cut mild steel using the heat of the laser beam to start a typical “oxy-fuel” burning process similar to an oxy-fuel torch. Cutting stainless steel or aluminum is done simply by melting the material with high pressure nitrogen used to blow the molten metal out of the cut area.
It’s important to choose a laser light wavelength that is highly absorbing in the material you intend to cut. The laser energy is absorbed in the material surface and heats it past the melting temperature to a degradation temperature where the material breaks down and disintegrates. The laser can also seal edges as it cuts to prevent threading on fibrous materials.
The CNC laser machines are becoming more common as initial investment costs come down. They are being used in industrial manufacturing applications, small businesses, home business and shops, school education, advertising and printing, children’s toys, the packaging industry, and many more. SEA-LECT recognizes the opportunity to add this option as a secondary process, and will soon be offering laser marking, etching, and cutting to our turn-key solutions. When you’re ready to work with an elite team that produces world-class products, call us (425) 339-0288 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can offer you advice on the best technology to use, the best materials to meet your product demands, and how to navigate through each development stage with ease.
Matthias Poischbeg was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Matt moved to Everett, Wash., after finishing his bachelor’s degree in business in 1995 to work for Sea-Dog Corporation, a manufacturer, and distributor of marine and rigging hardware established in 1923.
In 1999, Matt took over the reins at Sea-Lect Plastics Corporation, a sister company of Sea-Dog and a manufacturer of plastic injection molded products with an in-house tool & die shop. Matthias Poischbeg is also a contributor to Grit Daily.