Every manufacturing process has a unique set of challenges to face. Thanks to increased complexity and a lack of standardization, the part marking process is no exception.
Previously, we’ve discussed how material specification should be the first consideration when selecting the best permanent marking method for your parts.
The next step is to understand how the marking system will fit into your production process. Let’s look at 10 process considerations that will help you narrow down options when selecting a direct part marking method for your project:
Important Industrial Part Marking Process Considerations: Who, What, Where, and How Much?
Each company’s considerations are uniquely its own. Since there’s no “silver bullet” part marking process, it’s imperative to be aware of these 10 factors:
- Content of marking
- Mark location
- Size of parts
- Size of marking
- Part geometry
- Product mix
- Production volume
- Operating environment
- Product form and function
Content of Marking:
The first question to consider is what specifically will be marked on the part. Is it:
- Text characters?
Most marking devices are capable of marking text characters as a standard feature. However, more complex elements, such as logos or 2D barcodes, may require a software upgrade.
Another consideration is the size and density of marking. Ask yourself:
- How many characters will be marked?
- How many lines of text?
- What is the total marking area required for all elements, i.e. text, logos, and barcodes?
- Will all elements fit within the mechanical limits of the marking device itself?
After you have answered the what, the next question is where on the part will be marked. Is the space available for marking easily accessible, or are there unique part features that restrict or obstruct access to the marking surface? Can the marking tool make physical contact with the part surface, or do you need a non-contact marking method?
Size of Part:
Understanding the item’s size dictates how (and where) the marking process occurs:
Small parts that are light enough to be hand-carried and manipulated can be presented to the marking station at a fixed location (such as an operator assembly cell).
With large or heavy parts, it may not be practical to transport and load the part to a fixed location for marking. In this case, a portable solution is best — the marking device can be brought to the item, which is in a fixed location such as a storage rack or pallet.
Size of Marking:
Plainly stated: The size of the part will often determine the size of the marking itself.
Most parts will have a surface area large enough to add permanent markings discernible to the human eye. For very small parts, or parts where the available marking surface is limited, a mechanical marking technique such as dot peen may not be feasible. Laser marking, however, is capable of producing highly precise micro-marks visible only with the aid of magnification.
Will the marking be located on a flat, curved, or complex surface?
Any marking device should be able to mark onto a flat surface in a simple XY plane. However, more advanced and complex markings (such as marking 360° around the circumference of a cylindrical component) often requires the addition of a rotary axis.
More challenging still, complex surfaces requires a marking device capable of controlling three axes of motion — X,Y, and Z — to produce a quality mark that follows the contour of the part.
Will the marking machine be dedicated to a specific product, or will it be used as a general-purpose tool to mark a wide variety of parts?
A dedicated marking system can be customized to the particular needs of a given product application with minimum operator intervention required.
A production environment with a low-volume, high product mix demands a flexible marking system. Having a flexible marking system eliminates the need for dedicated tooling and minimizes operator setup time between production runs for different parts.
The volume of parts to be marked within a given space or time will determine the duty cycle on the marking machine. Production rates can be defined in terms of:
- Parts per hour
- Parts per shift
- Parts per day
For low-duty cycle product applications of less than 100 parts/day, a relatively inexpensive entry-level marking machine may be adequate to satisfy production requirements. Production batches in the 100s or 1,000s of parts/day require a more robust, industrial marking machine capable of withstanding a higher duty cycle.
The level of process automation required to keep up with the desired throughput rate will also be driven by production volume. For low-volume production, an operator can feed parts manually to a stationary product loading fixture at the marking station.
As throughput rates increase to the 100’s of parts/day, semi-automation, such as a pneumatic part shuttle or two-position dial plate, can help the machine operator keep pace with production. For high-volume production in the thousands of parts/day, a fully automated marking system requiring minimal operator intervention is ideal.
Product Form and Function:
What is the intended use of the part to be marked?
The marking process should not alter the form, fit, or function of the part itself as the part may become structurally compromised or unusable.
Controlled surfaces require a marking method that does not displace or remove material from the part surface such as laser marking. On the other hand, product surfaces that are exposed to an extreme pressure differential (such as pipe and valve fittings) call for a low-stress marking method, such as dot peen, that does not introduce thermal shock or stress fractures in the material.
Operating conditions in the production environment are an important consideration when selecting the right marking machine for the job. Ask yourself:
- will the marking equipment be used indoors or outdoors – or both?
- Is the operating environment relatively clean or will the marking machine be exposed to dust, oil spray, or liquids such as machining fluids?
- Is the production area climate controlled, or is it prone to seasonal temperature extremes?
- What is the operator’s skill level?
While not a direct process consideration, budgetary constraints will impact which part marking technology to purchase. In the end, “the right tool for the job” often becomes “the best tool for the available budget”.
A word of caution here: many manufacturers fall into the trap of false economy by focusing solely on the initial capital outlay for the marking equipment, only to suffer higher operating costs as a result of production bottlenecks and machine downtime from a piece of machinery that is not up to the task. But why compromise?
Look for OEMs that offer equipment financing programs. Financing programs enable manufacturers to acquire the best marking technology for the job while maintaining the flexibility to pay for it over time from the operations budget rather than going through a traditional capital expenditure approval process.
How Will Technomark North America Help?
Integrated industrial traceability solutions don’t have to be complicated. However, one of the essential features that a company’s quality control team has to maintain is traceability.
At TECHNOMARK, we are experts in permanent marking and industrial traceability. Whatever your part marking challenges, we will be pleased to consult with you to review process considerations for your next project. Contact us today through our website or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in June 2021 and has been updated to reflect the most current information.)