2015. december 12., szombat, 17:56
Laser marking systems can be simply integrated, are easy to operate and mark objects in readable form for machines - in spite of reflecting surfaces.
Laser marking systems inscribe different materials and object shapes with high quality and are becoming increasingly more important in the global economy. "The number of in-demand laser markers around the world has more than doubled in the last five years," said Dr. Arnold Mayer from Optech Consulting. According to Dr. Mayer, demand is being fuelled by a greater need for flexible marking systems for product traceability and for design purposes, i.e. in conjunction with a less expensive generation of laser systems. This will also be reflected at the forthcoming LASYS 2016, which will be held at the Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre from 31 May to 2 June 2016. The international trade fair is specially tailored to laser material processing and presents the latest laser production systems, laser-specific components and subsystems, for example for laser cutting, laser welding, laser drilling, laser contract welding, laser ablation, laser hardening, laser trimming, laser polishing and laser marking.
Marking was one of the first uses of a laser among its current applications.Laser marking systems have now become well-established in manufacturing industry. They mark products with codes, serial numbers, logos, graphics and much more besides in different sizes - from micro to macro and at high speed.
Advantages compared with conventional marking processes
Laser marking has enormous advantages compared with conventional marking methods. "A laser is able to produce readable codes on different materials in one work step," emphasised Thilo von Grafenstein, Marketing Manager at the LASYS exhibitor Acsys Lasertechnik. Lasers mark quickly and permanently, and do not damage surfaces. "Moreover, no consumables are required as is the case, for example, with pad printing or inkjets," argued Natalie Eichner, a marketing specialist at the LASYS exhibitor Trotec. She added: "The relatively small investment costs and much lower operating costs due to low power consumption, air cooling and avoidance of wear parts make laser marking systems economical." Von Grafenstein can also confirm this and mentions one example: "The energy consumption of modern fibre laser systems is only slightly higher than that of efficient desktop computers. Complete laser systems with three or more travelling axes can normally be used with a standard 230 V connection and commercially available 16 A fuses. Another advantage of our laser systems is the enormous time saving during set-up thanks to our camera-based preview system LAS – Live Adjust System. The time saved during 3D laser engraving is therefore around 80 per cent compared with vertical eroding."
Product traceability - important for the global economy
Laser marking is playing an important role as unit numbers increase, products become more individualised and business transactions are conducted on a global scale. In industries such as pharmaceuticals and medical technology, product traceability is an obligation while other industries have to mark products due to quality reasons. Product traceability is becoming increasingly more important, for example, for the consumer electronics industry or the motor vehicle construction industry as part of quality assurance. With recall campaigns in the automobile industry, for example, it is important to be able to quickly identify by means of the marking where the vehicle parts originate from and what technical features they possess. This saves time and, thus, money.
Traceability is therefore an important driving force on the laser marking market.
According to von Grafenstein, the challenges for modern laser marking systems firstly include marking quality and machine readability. This means, for example,
that it must be possible to print QR codes on reflecting materials such as metals in a readable form for a machine. For this purpose, the laser initially machines the substrate and mats the surface using a special process. The laser then writes the code on this frosted surface. This process is used in different industries, for example in the medical industry with titanium instruments, in the tool industry with saw blades or in the automobile industry with different parts from automotive component suppliers. Secondly, "marking on the fly“, i.e. marking of components during transportation on a conveyor belt, is a difficult task since the movement of the object to be marked and of the laser beam overlap. Precise coordination is required in this case in order to prevent distorted marking. According to von Grafenstein, another challenge is to connect internal company databases. "The software from Acsys must be able", said the laser expert, "to accept automated orders and possibly also process them."
However, there are other requirements which modern laser marking systems must satisfy: "Machining plastics can be a challenge since they react very differently to the laser beam and must therefore always be sampled beforehand." said Eichner. According to Eichner, marking uneven surfaces and precise positioning of components are also not always easy. "However, it is very important that the system can be easily programmed and operated;" said Eichner. In order to satisfy these demands, the systems from Trotec are supported, for example, by an integrated camera system which assists the operator when positioning the inscription, thus enabling precise marking even with minute components.
LASYS exhibitors cover the needs of the market
Visitors to LASYS 2016 will have the opportunity to hold extensive discussions with experienced laser experts regarding their problems and find new ideas and solutions. New opportunities with lasers and new application areas in the nanometer processing range, for example, are therefore being developed: "Lasers are able, for example, to engrave metal so finely that the light wavelengths are brokenly reflected in the engraved structure. Depending on the incidence angle of the light, a different colour is reflected," said von Grafenstein. This could become interesting for designers in the coin industry or the jewellery and watch industries.
Exhibitors at LASYS satisfy the needs of manufacturing industry with their innovative laser systems. They include "improved and optimised operation of laser production systems, fully automated marking processes, and precise positioning or marking on free-form surfaces," said Eichner. In the opinion of von Grafenstein, laser production systems must therefore be highly flexible.
Modularity and easy upgradeability of other functionalities are the focal points in this respect. Summary by the Marketing Manager of Acsys: "Modern laser production systems must be able to grow with the company and adapt accordingly to the new challenges." The international high-tech trade fair LASYS is also adapting to market conditions and attaches great importance in its unique concept to the user-friendly presentation of innovative laser material processing technology for different manufacturers and materials. An extensive, first-class accompanying programme including, for example, the Stuttgart Laser Technology Forum (SLT), the technical forum "Lasers in Action“ and the short course entitled "Basic knowledge of lasers and laser material processing" will also provide visitors with the opportunity to bring their knowledge of lasers up to date and obtain advanced training on this subject.