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True Traceability Laser marking allows for parts to be tracked and traced

Writer:Lindsay LuminosoSource:canadianmetalworking Date:2015-07-16

Abstract:

 
 

Laser marking is no longer a supplementary process used occasionally to add decorative enhancements. In fact, laser marking has become a necessary process in many industries, due to strict part traceability requirements. Marking a part with a barcode, matrix, identification code, or serial number allow for manufacturers to track parts through their lifetime.
 
Creating a near-permanent mark on a wide variety of materials is what laser marking is designed to do. However, not all laser markers are created equal, and for good reason. Each unique application, material type and industry has very specific requirements for the type of mark needed.
 
When it comes to the laser itself, the spectrum is quite wide, including CO2, fiber, green, and ultraviolet. The fiber laser operates at a 1064 nanometer wavelength and has the widest range of metalworking applications.
 
One thing to note is that every material interacts with the laser light differently. There are a wide range of materials requiring marking, which means there have been a wide range of lasers developed to address each. “In the current marketplace, the fiber laser is very popular and gaining popularity. It’s a way to directly mark on the metal part,” says Dr. Mark Boyle, laser product engineer for Amada Miyachi America Inc. “The CO2 is still a very popular marker, it’s good for marking on plastics. It doesn’t do as much with metals, though, primarily because that wavelength is very reflective for metals.”
 
Marking on metal is achieved through different processes. It is done through engraving, which removes material; annealing, which basically uses heat to change the colour, allowing blue, red, yellow and black marks; then there is ablation, which takes a layer of material off like with anodized aluminum, it takes off the anodized layer to reveal a different layer underneath.
 
A laser marking specialist can help determine the correct parameters for each industry application. Although some processes, like engraving, are generally used in all industries, “it really depends on what the part is being used for,” says Thomas Burdel, TruMark national sales manager for TRUMPF. “If it is just a tag or nameplate, you use speed engraving and go very quickly. If it’s an automotive part, they would most of the time use annealing, like when they do gears, also for parts like bearings.”
 
One thing is certain, industry is demanding more and more part traceability. “Direct part marking has been up and coming for a while. Marking goes into almost every industry. Companies want to mark parts, either with a company logo, a product serial number, or whatever they want on there,” explains Boyle.
 
One of the challenges, however, is dealing with stringent requirements from various industries.
 
In the medical industry, parts must have a damage-free mark. Laser markers have a fairly broad range of capabilities to accommodate this requirement. You can use the same marker to make marks with varying degrees of depth. “For example, when manufacturing a medical device, you want your mark to have virtually no depth, because there is concern bacteria could get into and grow in the mark,” explains Michelle Avila, public relations manager for Hypertherm. “On the extreme flip side, if you are a manufacturer of high wear automotive parts, you’d likely want to create a pretty deep mark.”
 
When it comes to medical device manufacturing, those parts require corrosion-free marks as well, explains Wesley Reeves, regional sales manager, marking and micro, for ROFIN-BAASEL Canada, Ltd. “[Rofin markers] can mark a stainless steel part with known parameter settings such that it won’t corrode later on in its lifespan.”
 
The medical industry is an extremely important proponent of direct part marking. Burdel explains that the medical industry is probably one of TRUMPF’s largest customer segments for laser marking systems. “Most of the time it’s for traceability. They use data matrix to trace the part. The FDA has certain requirements, each part, even in the assembly, has to be identifiable since the new regulations came out,” he explains. The same is true for Canada. New Unique Device Identifier (UDI) requirements are forcing many industries, specifically the medical industry, to adapt to part identification through laser marking.
 
When it comes to part marking in the aerospace industry, there are strict requirements just like machining tight tolerances. Reeves explains that when it comes to marking on aircraft components, they want very little damage, very little recast in the part because that could cause microfractures and part failure.
 
Direct part marking via laser marking, “is useful for inventory control and to ensure the customer receives the correct part,” adds Avila. It allows lifetime traceability.
 
No matter what the industry or material, laser marking specialists are able to provide state-of-the-art laser marking systems designed with the customer in mind. The systems can either be integrated into the production line or as stand-alone models with class 1 enclosures.
 
“We can take on whatever the requirements are from the customer and integrate that [into the laser marking system],” says Reeves. New features, technical enhancements, and unique accessories can make laser marking easy and highly efficient.
 
Safety is a number one priority, and when it comes to laser marking, there are several additional features that can help. Boyle says that generally, customers want to include a fume extractor. In many cases marking will remove the surface and creates microscopic dust, whether it be stainless steel or likewise, and if you are working with a variety of materials there can be a lot of fumes coming off. “It is good to have it extracted in a safe environment and filtered out before putting it into the general environment,” he says.
 
Another feature that customers are often inquiring about is design overlay. Manufacturers have found different ways to incorporate this into their systems. Rofin uses a vision system to present an image on the design screen, so the customer can see this in real time and can overlay the mark on objects where he wants on the part.
 
TRUMPF uses a pilot laser to produce a simulated image of the marking in visible, safe red light. This makes it easy to position the workpiece in the marking area. Either way, the customer is able to see in real-time just how the mark is going to look on the part.
Quality is another concern. Adding a barcode reader, either handheld or integrated into a system, enables operators to verify their part mark. Boyle explains, “A 2D barcode reader is a standard accessory that [Amada Miyachi] offers. More infrequently, but still available as an accessory, is a barcode verifier, a barcode reader will verify that it’s there, a barcode verifier will tell you how good that mark is based on a couple of different standards like ISO and AIM.”
 
When it comes to efficiency, laser markers have come a long way. Most companies offer the ability to include multiple scan heads or dual-head systems. One of the challenges in large production settings is streamlining the process and to avoid bottlenecking. “Sometimes parts are coming down two at a time side-by-side, [Rofin’s laser markers] can separate the beam in time or energy share so it can mark parallel lines of production that way,” explains Reeves.
 
Part identification and tracking can be challenging using other methods like pad printing or sticker barcodes, which are only temporary. If a part identifier is removed, no one knows what it is or where it came from. This is why direct part marking is so important. “If you do direct marking, you can easily do it with a laser marker, it’s permanent, no one can remove it and it lasts a long time. This has been the strength for the laser marker. It’s readable, permanent, and for example, from a traceability standpoint, it ensures no one else is able to copy the part.”
 
Laser marking is the way of the future. Every part, right down to the tiniest of bone screws to a large engine block will require some sort of identification. Laser marking technology is becoming more and more mature, explains Boyle, adding, “Autofocus on parts, fixed distance lens and more advanced software are all making marking systems easier to use and more intuitive. They’re already fairly intuitive and now customers can just put in a couple of key strokes and they’re ready to mark.”
 
Laser marking systems can offer standard marking or can be extremely complex with lots of bells and whistles. Regardless of the system, it is important to find a laser marker that suits your everyday needs so that all parts can be easily tracked and traced.

TypeInfo: Industry News

Keywords for the information:Traceability  laser  2D barcode reader