Today a variety of available surface treatments allow industrial manufacturers to significantly modify properties displayed by metal part exteriors. For example, a surface treatment may improve resistance to corrosion, or add new, stylish aesthetic qualities. Manufacturers sometimes rely upon a number of different surface treatments during finishing.
Engraving has become a very popular finishing procedure during the production of metallic components. By selectively removing material from the surface, a manufacturer permanently alters the appearance of the work piece. This subtractive process enables the fabricator to leave information such as logos and identification numbers and/or decorative designs directly on the surface.
During former eras, industrial parts manufacturers usually utilized sharp tools to help them cut directly into metal surfaces to perform engraving. In the years before automation, this process frequently lacked precision because it depended mainly upon the skill and dexterity of the individual engraver. Today, the use of lasers as engraving tools has increased markedly. The process of computer assisted laser engraving offers numerous advantages over manual engraving.
For instance, currently most manufacturing firms rely upon durable fiber lasers for engraving. Lasers focus light intensely. Fiber lasers rely on standard silicon optic fibers manufactured with rare earth elements through a process called “doping”. These lasers generate high quality, stable light beams capable of cutting precisely into the surface of most metals. They allow fabricators to permanently cut finely-detailed aesthetic designs and/or messages onto the exteriors of metal components.
Laser etching has also evolved over the course of time. Like laser engraving, this process contributes to many finely finished products:
The process of etching differs significantly from engraving. Instead of using tools to physically cut into a substrate (such as a metallic surface), a manufacturer relies upon selectively applied chemical agents to remove material. For instance, a manufacturer might completely coat a metal surface with a protective waxy coating, then use etching tools to scratch a decorative pattern on the surface, creating some exposed areas of uncoated metal.
The fabricator then immerses the entire surface of the part into an acidic bath. The caustic chemical won’t act as quickly on the coated surface, but it will deepen the outlines of the previously drawn design, forming an etching. By precisely controlling parameters such as the strength of the acid and the amount of time the part spends in the bath, manufacturers can modify the surface of a metal part with some precision.
Today, laser etching often replaces manual etching. Lasers used for this purpose do not require the power of engraving lasers, so etching machines sometimes use carbon dioxide lasers instead of fiber lasers. The laser beam will scratch accurate, highly detailed markings into protective coatings accurately. After dipping the item in a caustic chemical, a manufacturer may generate an ornate, finely finished design or affix written information permanently on the surface of the part.
In modern manufacturing facilities, some parts producers have completely eliminated the use of caustic chemical baths. Instead of cutting through a protective coating layer, an etching laser will generate intense heat. The high temperatures cause the substrate to melt wherever it comes into contact with the laser beam. This green manufacturing process produces finely etched products without the need to dispose of large quantities of hazardous waste solutions.
Laser etching by industrial parts manufacturers utilizes a variety of laser etching machine designs and substrates. Popular applications facilitate the creation of a wide array of useful products.
Although manufacturers often use laser etching to finish copper or steel metal parts, they can employ this process on a number of nonmetallic surfaces also. For instance, glass, ceramic, and tile may all benefit from the etching process. In some locations, manufacturers also require acids to help etch away the substrate.
However, a growing number of parts fabricators use green manufacturing techniques to laser etch parts. Today inventors have designed a diversity of excellent laser etching machines. Most modern equipment combines hot laser etching with the use of sophisticated CNC software and computer assisted drafting programs to implement easily replicated, automated production processes. Some machinery will also work in conjunction with photoengraving software programs.
Manufacturers have developed countless applications for laser etched metal parts. These include: labels and serial numbers on industrial parts, decorative signage in office buildings, company logos on proprietary transportation equipment, and decorative designs on consumer products, such as plates and serving trays. The capability to etch metal enables manufacturers to associate their firm very clearly with their brands.
For instance, one of the most useful applications for laser etching involves labeling parts in kits. Instead of instructing customers to examine the images of different components on accompanying written instructions, manufacturers who expect customers to assemble products at home can now clearly and permanently label the parts in a kit individually. This process eliminates confusion while enhancing consumer safety.
How does laser etching differ from laser engraving and laser marking? Today all three processes sometimes play a role in manufacturing settings:
Laser Etching: Increasingly laser etching involves using lasers to selectively heat portions of the surface of a part. The heat melts the substrate and causes it to diverge in appearance from the surrounding material.
Laser Engraving: The manufacturer uses a powerful fiber laser to physically cut away material in a subtractive process from the surface of the metal part.
Laser Marking: A low-powered laser beam selectively discolors the surface of a part, enabling manufacturers to mark the work piece permanently.
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