What do DVD players, checkout lines at the grocery store, and industrial marking machines all have in common? Lasers.
But not all lasers are the same.
L.A.S.E.R. stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. In simpler terms, it’s a highly concentrated beam of light. Lasers consist of a:
Gain medium: a material that works in tandem with electrical currents to stimulate the photons of light as it passes through
Energy supply: Energy supply for lasers usually comes in the form of electrical currents. These currents are “pumped” through the grain medium to stimulate the atom as light passes through. The pumping of electrical currents causes the light to bounce faster through the grain medium.
A material to provide optical feedback: The materials chosen for optical feedback have one primary job: steering. the way the beam of light is directed
Aircraft have an expected lifespan of roughly 20 years. During that time, the components involved in the operation of the aircraft are regularly exposed to high temperatures. This means the part marking system used for aerospace applications must withstand these conditions, allowing the part to be identified as easily at the end of its lifespan as at the beginning.
Direct part marking is a method employed by manufacturers to streamline the process of identifying parts reliably. The mark must be durable, withstand specific conditions, and be unique to facilitate the identification process. Aerospace part marking in particular requires methods that withstand high temperatures and maintain readability.
What is Direct Part Marking (DPM)?
Direct part marking (DPM) is a system of tracking products using 2D codes marked directly on the part. This better facilitates the part’s identification throughout the manufacturing and supply chain journey.
DPM has grown in popularity with the U.S, Department of Defense, as well as within the automotive, aerospace, medical device, and electronics manufacturing spheres. The DPM process provides improved quality of marks and also traceability over time. Safety and liability concerns, as well as warranty issues, are improved through the use of DPM. Likewise, the occurrence of data entry errors is reduced through the utilization of this process.
Ink, Dot Peen, and Chemical Etching: Why They Aren’t Ideal
Various DPM methods exist and are still reliable means to the end of tracing parts throughout their lifespan. However, with the aerospace industry’s unique challenges and high expectations for components of an aircraft, the more traditional part marking methods are less effective.
Inkjet and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) part marking processes are effective in many scenarios, but due to the high heat exposure, they are not ideal for aerospace applications. There is also the additional cost of ink supplies to consider with the inkjet method.
Likewise, chemical etching requires additional funds for supplies, and there is waste created during the marking process.
Dot peen raises concerns regarding repair when it becomes necessary, and the marks created by this process also can be more challenging to read for a high-definition, high-speed device.
How Laser Marking Resolves Issues for Aerospace Industry Applications
Laser marking improves part traceability, which is key to the process of both aircraft manufacturing and maintenance. The process allows manufacturers to mark each component and not worry about damage or distortion due to the marking process.
The laser marking process does not require contact with the part. Therefore, the marks created are permanent and durable, all without risking damage or any alteration to the parts themselves.
Laser marking is an energy-efficient and affordable part marking method that reduces the environmental impact. The process can be used on aluminum, titanium, or stainless steel – all without any type of consumable component necessary.
It also is a reliable way to enhance traceability and repeat the process for each part. The software controlling laser marking makes it more streamlined and reduces operator involvement. This way, part numbers, and bar codes are both created consistently, and both cycle time and overall productivity are increased.
Some of the materials used for parts for aircraft require laser marking to be both effective and non-damaging. The laser marking process is also easily automated, increasing the volume of products produced within a specified timeframe.
Check out the video of our partner below for an idea of how laser marking works:
Aerospace Part Marking Involves Time-Saving Software
Today’s technology provides increased accuracy and reliability. The process also improves consistency and cuts down on the risk of human error. The software involved in the laser marking process generates serial numbers, further improving the accuracy and reliability of the manufacturing process.
Strict regulatory standards for the aerospace industry require a reliable and unmistakable part marking method. Aerospace part marking requires methods such as laser marking to provide that reliability and clarity.
Time and Traceability in Aerospace Part Marking
The two-decade lifespan of an aircraft means that all the components involved in the manufacture of the vehicle must be clearly marked with a method that will be effective for the long term. The use of DPM, specifically laser marking in recent years, has improved the traceability of parts and also the later life span identification process. Laser marking is a widely accepted method of part marking that facilitates further improvements in the aerospace industry.
Consult the Experts: Technomark Can Help
Our Technomark professionals can help you determine the best DPM solution for your product line. Reach out to discuss your needs with us.
Laser part marking requires an understanding of both the engraver that will best fit your application requirements and the laser source that will provide the best mark. There are a variety of laser sources, and we will highlight three types, as well as two subtypes, of the best laser-marking technology and outline the best choice for the material you are using and the depth of the mark you require to meet regulatory requirements.
5 Laser Sources Based on Wavelength
Laser part marking is common in a number of industries because it is effective for long-term part identification and meets the rigorous standards set forth for aerospace, mechanical, and other high-demand industries.
However, each industry has specific needs when it comes to the product, and the potential damage to the product if the wrong laser is used. The equipment you need is part of the process, but from there the laser that is best is the next point to consider.
With that in mind, we can take a look at five of the commonly used lasers and the best use case for each:
1. CO2 Laser
CO2 laser marking is a popular laser engraving and marking solution because of its ability to mark non-metallic materials. It’s efficient in marking a variety of non-metals, too, including:
The CO2 laser produces an infrared laser beam and uses CO2 gas as the active medium. The laser is emitted at 10.6 micrometers and features high beam quality, allowing it to focus laser power into a small spot and produce high-quality laser marks. This laser has the longest wavelength, which is located on the invisible infrared spectrum.
This laser is efficient for cutting some materials and for personalizing products. However, this type of laser also requires more maintenance and uses more energy.
2. Fiber Laser
Another laser source is fiber laser marking, which also offers the ability to mark non-metallic surfaces with a high degree of accuracy. This laser source utilizes a shorter wavelength than a CO2 laser and uses a fiber optic laser device to emit laser beams at a wavelength of 1.064 micrometers. The wavelength produced is located in the infrared spectrum.
It quickly and accurately produces laser marks on materials such as:
This laser source also offers the ability to be tuned for specific applications with easily adjustable settings.
A fiber laser can also be used for embossing or to add discoloration where desired. The discoloration process with a fiber laser provides avariety of colors and better control simultaneously.
The fiber laser is the most commonly used in the laser marking industry, particularly common in aerospace, metallurgy, automotive, and mechanical applications. It’s useful for all types of metals and has a long lifespan when compared to other lasers.
3. YAG Laser
The YAG laser operates on a wavelength similar to the fiber laser (1.064 micrometers). However, this type of laser has a different structure than a fiber laser and the beam passes through different crystals in order to create the beam.
The YAG laser is ideal for marking metals and plastics in its more widely recognized configuration. However, it can be adjusted to mark more sensitive materials as well.
4. Green Laser
The green laser, the first subtype of the YAG laser, is the only laser with a wavelength in the visible spectrum. This allows manufacturers to mark many sensitive materials, such as:
The green laser is ideal for these sensitive materials because its wavelength is located near the UV spectrum generates less heat.
5. UV Laser
The UV laser is another subtype of the YAG laser. Thanks to implanted crystals, it became possible to adjust the wavelength for this laser and utilize others, providing access to the only laser in the invisible ultraviolet spectrum (0.355 micrometers).
The UV laser has the shortest wavelength used in the laser marking field and as such is relied upon for markings on fairly sensitive materials.
This laser also makes it possible to carry out “cold markings” — which means manufacturers can avoid the degradation of parts due to the heat. This laser is used for marking solar panels, electrical components, and other parts that require a refined approach.
6 Ways to Choose a Laser Marking Source
Planning production of your next line means a lot of considerations. These include the material you will use and the speed you can expect products to be completed. Meanwhile, several of those factors also influence the choice of laser:
Material to be marked
Mean time between failures (MTBF)
Depth of mark needed
Laser maintenance needs
Speed of marking process
Ease of settings adjustment
1. Material to be Marked
With the variety of materials used in production, it makes sense to prioritize the materials when considering a laser source. For more heat-sensitive materials, it’s important to find the right laser and access one that is easily adjustable.
2. Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF):
The Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) is a guideline of how reliable your laser will be based on its hours of operation. Each laser has a different expectation — and keep in mind these are mean times, not a guaranteed lifespan. Some lasers have a longer MTBF but can fail in a shorter period of time than expected
While the fiber laser has an MTBF of 100,000 hours, CO2 lasers have a significantly shorter MTBF of 30,000 hours. This is a crucial factor to keep in mind while choosing the best option for your production cadence.
3. Depth of Mark Needed
Some lasers are singled out for the ability to make deeper marks than others. For certain regulations and standards, the laser with a deeper marking capability would be the preferred choice.
Meanwhile, other materials require a lighter mark that doesn’t cause damage. Therefore, the depth of the mark is a key factor in laser source choice.
4. Laser Maintenance Needs
Some lasers require more maintenance than others. This means a commitment of more of the budget and possible interference with production timelines if maintenance is required frequently.
5. Speed of Marking Process
Your production timeline is important both for your revenue and to help your clients meet their own projected deadlines. As such, the marking process needs to be completed in a timely manner.
Note: Depending on the material to be marked, the right laser source makes a difference in meeting that timeline and getting behind due to lengthy marking processes. If laser marking isn’t the answer at all, there’s always dot peen marking.
6. Ease of Settings Adjustment
In some industries, the laser will need to be adjusted for separate part lines or stages in the production process. In these cases, it is more cost-effective to find a laser that can be adjusted easily. This better facilitates effective marking on the desired timeline.
Which Laser Marking Source is Right for Your Production Needs?
With three laser marking types and two subtypes, it should be a reasonable process to narrow down the best laser for an application based on the factors involved. Your production line requires a certain type of mark and you have an expectation of how long that mark will last.
The right laser marking source means faster delivery of products that carry distinct markings to fit your clients’ needs.
Don’t Waste Money and Lose Project Momentum
If you have questions about the right laser source for your project, it’s time to talk to our experienced Technomark staff. Reach out today, and we can help point you in the right direction.
Download Combo documentation
Discover all the features and options of the Combo.
Download Graphix.series documentation
Discover all the features and options of the Graphix.series laser marking machine.
Download Easy documentation
Discover all the features and options of the Easy dot peen marking machine.