Manufacturers of metal parts often perform surface treatments to change or modify the exterior of a workpiece in some way. For instance, a specific treatment may alter the surface texture or modify the color. The process of finishing a metal component sometimes involves the use of multiple surface treatments.
Engraving occurs when a manufacturer removes material selectively from the surface of a workpiece, beginning at the top and extending downwards to specified depths. This operation usually occurs in conjunction with the finishing phase of manufacturing.
The Laser Engraving Process
In the past, manufacturers often relied upon the use of acids to etch away material in order to perform metal engraving. Today, the development of a wide variety of lasers has permitted production facilities to use industrial engraving lasers instead in many situations. Lasers rely on focused, amplified beams of light to cut away metal from the surface of a workpiece to designated depths.
Laser engraving may perform an important role during the finishing a metal component. This process offers a way to permanently associate information with a manufactured item. It may also permit the uniform creation of grooves, notches or slots, for instance. The ability to use powerful industrial engraving lasers offers many advantages over the use of etching acids.
Laser Engraving Machines
Today metal parts manufacturers enjoy access to a wide selection of laser engraving machinery in a variety of sizes. Companies can use equipment scaled to the volume of a production run. For instance, a small company may use a single laser-engraving unit and scale up production as runs increase in volume.
Manufacturers also enjoy the ability to adjust the type of laser cutting beam for use on a variety of metal alloys and other materials, including: wood, cardboard, acrylic, plexiglass, cork, natural stone, glass, and rubber. Today, companies employ many varieties of lasers to perform a variety of functions, including solid state lasers, gas lasers, diode lasers, ultraviolet lasers, dye lasers, and more. All of these devices rely upon the emission of highly focused and amplified beams.
Essential Laser Components
Regardless of their differences, the lasers used during manufacturing offer some essential key components: a liquid, solid or gaseous "gain medium" which supplies sustained emissions; total and partial reflectors to focus and amplify light; a laser beam output source and a power source. In metal parts production facilities, lasers may perform a multiplicity of different roles, including drilling, cutting, engraving, marking and surface preparation.
Industrial Metal Engraving Lasers
Although widely used for engraving some materials, gas lasers (such as carbon dioxide lasers) usually lack the intense optical gain required to perform engraving on metal parts. Instead, many manufacturers employ fiber lasers with at least a 1.06 micron wavelength. This equipment uses a gain medium consisting of an optical fiber treated with a rare earth element (e.g. neodymium, ytterbium or thulium). This type of laser supplies a high optical gain and can generate a laser beam for sustained periods of time. Fiber lasers also typically cut faster than some other types of lasers. Most industrial laser engraving equipment associates a computer numerical control system and computerization with the use of a fiber laser. Operators utilize interfaces and software programs to instruct automated CNC lasers to remove surface material from a metal workpiece within specified parameters. Manufacturers can duplicate this process repeatedly during production.
Materials And Applications
Laser engraving engraves a wide variety of different metals and metal alloys. This popular finishing operation has found many applications in industry. The increased use of automation contributes to the efficiency of the manufacturing process:
Both the laser power level and the hardness of a metal workpiece impact the speed of the engraving process, and the ability of the cutting laser to remove material from specified depths. Nickel and steel generally prove more challenging to engrave than softer metals, such as copper.
Numerous applications exist for laser engraving. Today industrial components frequently undergo this process. For instance, a manufacturer may engrave a part number and a company logo into its products.
Advantages of Laser Engraving
Laser engraving offers a number of distinct advantages during metal parts production.
- This technology provides an excellent value during the finishing process because it does not require extensive tooling. Instead, a concentrated bean remotely marks, cuts and engraves components. The laser beam won't grow dull or lose its cutting capabilities with heavy use.
- Lasers function well in conjunction with extensive automation. Manufacturers can use software programs and computerized equipment to control the angle and depth of laser penetration precisely. Products moving along assembly lines in some facilities undergo laser engraving without requiring individualized handling. In this respect, laser engraving serves as an accurate, cost-effective process in high volume manufacturing settings.
- Unlike acid-etching, laser beams perform engraving without generating undesirable toxins or chemical waste products. The use of "clean" laser technology readily permits repetition, without costing metal parts manufacturers additional costs to perform byproduct disposal or environmental cleanup.
- Today lasers engrave reliably in three dimensions on many different types of materials, including most metal alloys. Laser beams access the interior of cavities inside metal components, for instance. They also remove material from ornate or complexly-shaped metal surfaces. In this respect, laser engraving supplies incredible versatility.
- Industrial engraving lasers allow manufacturers to selectively remove material from metal components within tight tolerance ranges. The high level of accuracy makes this process suitable for relaying important information about the product through the use of engraved data. For instance, a manufacturer may use a laser to engrave safety information or an identification number permanently on a metal component.