Fiber Laser Marking Technology

Use of Fiber Laser Marking or laser etching is espically suited to metals and other non-organic materials. Fiber systems are also of great use for color marking certain plastics, such as security or entry cards used in door locking or building access systems. In this article we will focus fiber marking and the associated technology. Video demo of fiber laser marking at the end of the article:

2D bar code and text with fiber laser marking
Data Matrix Code and Text Completed with Fiber Laser Marking

Why Fiber Laser Marking?

Advantages of system integration with Fiber series are centered on the following considerations.

Product identification with Fiber laser marking with etching or marking with fiber system automation allows the manufacturer to place part number, serial numbers, and bar codes on products easily and quickly, providing the following advantages.

  • Marked bar codes with fiber marking – placed on products allows production system to read the bar codes at various point or stages in the production process this allows for better coordination related to build up’s on bill of materials and e-commerce orders.
  • Parts numbers or serial numbers marked with fiber system automation – this information can be fiber etched directly into the parts creating easy to read method for inventory control and placement into assemblies.
  • Fiber Marking allows Compliance with Regulatory Requirements- fiber system integration allows for manufactures to place unique identification on products the marking of characters the marking of part number and manufacturer data (information to identify the manufacturer and the parts). This can be driven down to specific items such as plant location or number, line number, and hour-minute-second of manufacturer. In these cases manufactures can meet regulatory requirements to protect consumers (ie: gas pipes, flight critical parts for military and aerospace manufactures allowing for tacking and control after any flight crashes). These features are also important for protection of consumers in industries such as kitchen appliances (ie: burner instructions for stove tops).
  • Fiber System Marking Allows Color Marking on Metal- fiber system automation can be used to place color marking on metal products. The LP9000F series of Fiber Lasers from 10w to 500w allows the end user to control the marking frequency of the system from 0 all the way to 500 kHz. As the frequency of switching the laser on and off combined with lengthening or shorting of laser pulse length the fiber laser is able to produce different colors on the metal. On certain metals, such as titanium, the frequency control features of WLSC fiber automation will allow bright blue marks on the products. This becomes especially useful and interesting for the medical device industry, for example.
  • Growing Oxides on Metals with Fiber Laser Marking- Fiber series integration will allow the user to grow oxide on metals and stainless steel. The feature is governed with the kHz settings and also the fill factors of executed marking files. By combining and coordinating the kHz options and fill factors in the marking files, different oxide appearance can be achieved from a dark almost black oxide to light brown oxide and also an oxide that shows hues of reds. The ability to grow these oxides on metals moves beyond strictly marking products for identification, warranty protection, and consumer protection to decorative issues for manufactures to identify the products to consumers (ie: related to stainless steel kitchen appliances).
  • Fiber Laser Marking protects the environment- integration with fiber lasers eliminates all inks, chemical, solvents, and physical contact with the product. This helps the environment in several ways. Inks require disposal of the ink delivery and cartridge systems creating waste and debris for landfills. The inks themselves are cancer causing agents and unless very high end an very expensive inks are used (significantly increasing manufacturing costs). The cleaning and maintenance of ink systems both ink splitters and pad printers requires, chemicals & solvents which are all damaging to the environment. All these issues are eliminated when system automation is used for color  marking. Thus laser integration provides an environmentally friendly green manufacturing environment. Fiber laser marking also eliminates all physical contact with the product. Mechanical scribing and etching is eliminated and because there is no physical contact with the products. Damage to both the manufacturing equipment and product is eliminated greatly increasing manufacturing efficiency and eliminating waste. These items also combine to reduce manufacturing costs. In several cases, scrap rates (the amount of product discarded due to damage caused by mechanical etching systems coming in contact with the product) is reduced to be almost or even at zero.

Fiber Laser Marking Technology

The LP9000F series at WLSC started with Nd:YAG flash lamp systems. While these types of lasers are now most obsolete and not designed into our systems, they are still available if an end user insists. Especially these older style lasers used a grown crystal doped with the chemical compound, such as Neodynmium {Nd} (the doped crystal is referred to as the YAG rod). The beam is created when and flash lamp turns on and excites the rod and create theb eam (medium). The YAG rod and flash lamp are contained in a gold plated enclosure (to gain maximum reflectivity) and water was run through the gold plated enclosure to cool the YAG rod. This keeps it from exploding or cracking. The YAG Rod and flash lamp were covered in a glass sleeve to prevent water from touching them and causing damage to them. The entire set up was large, required 220v power supplies (minimum) and generated lots of heat. The beam alignment procedure was difficult and often required ‘touch ups’ or adjustments. These Nd: YAG systems were excellent tools for engraving metals; however, the life times were not long and monthly opening of the cavity to replace the flash lamp was often required. If the water cooling the system was not deionized electros,  it would cause the gold enclosure to lose the gold plate. The cavity rendering the system useless until replaced at significant cost.

The LP9000F series of fiber systems has significant technology advancements, some of which are:

  • The flash lamp and YAG rod are eliminated.
  • The beam is created when a fiber optic bundle which has been doped with a rare earth element. For WLSC , we usually use Neodymium [ND], but can also be Ytterbium, dysprosium, and erbium depending the type of work and exact light wavelength required for the operations.
  • Generally automotive diodes are used to excite the fiber cable and generate the beam. These light element are small and generate little or no heat.
  • Due to small amounts of heat generation air cooling is possible and the entire package is greatly reduced in size.
  • LP9000F fiber systems have very low costs of ownership and come with 36 month warranties. The mean time to failure exceeds 50,000 hours of operations or 8.2 years for a 7 day per week 3 shifts per day, 50 week per year operation.

In addition to the significant hardware technology improvements in the fiber marking systems, major software advantages are available now also some of which are:

  • Select waveforms offering pulse durations from 3ns to 2000ns
  • Five [5] beam quality modes or options that allow for:
    • Small less than 20µm [micron or micro-meter] spot size for marking very fine details.
    • General purpose etching with an increase in debt of focus +/_ tolerances
    • Low mode used in general fiber marking applications the size of the beam slightly larger and used successfully to mark features visible to the naked eye – viewable without magnification.
    • High pulse energies and peak power with biggest beam used typically for applications with large characters and large areas cover [largest marking with largest possible marking areas.]
    • Very high pulse energies and long pulse durations typically used and suggested for welding and cleaning operations
    • Ability to control in all configurations and all waveforms frequency [cycle on and off of the laser] from 0 to 500 kHz.

About Worldwide Laser Service Corporation – WLSC

Founded in July of 1986 in Phoenix AZ 85009 to provide service, parts, and repairs to the TEA mask Co2 series.  WLSC starting provided Nd: YAG systems in 1970 coupled with various material handlers to comprise a complete turnkey marking station. WLSC now has YAG and Fiber marking systems installed all over the Americas and in ten offshore countries. WLSC has corporate office and manufacturing – assembly in Gilbert AZ 85233 and distributors/agents in foreign locations. WLSC provides system automation in Co2, 355nm, 532nm, and Fiber YAG platforms. Approximately 70% of WLSC installations are for marking or etching and the remaining for cutting or welding applications. WLSC primary areas of focus are general industrial, medical-pharmaceutical, semiconductor-silicon wafer, and medical device. WLSC mission is to focus on the protection of consumers and products, reducing manufacturing costs, and providing green environmentally friendly manufacturing environments through the use of system automation.