Understanding Laser Marking and Laser Etching Systems

Laser marking and laser etching are becoming more and more important in a growing number of industries. The basic reasons to laser marking or laser etch your products include:

o The mark is extremely durable, permanent and in most cases cannot be removed without destroying the product itself, this is true for laser marking, laser etching, or laser annealing.

o The laser marking process is accurate, 100% repeatable, fast, with very clear sharp results.

o The laser mark or laser etch can quickly and easily be changed without any machine change over, and, without replacing any tools. The changing of a laser marking or laser etch is a simple drag and click computer operation.

o The laser requires no consumables and no additional purchases of added materials or supplies. Therefore the operating and maintenance costs of owning and running the laser marking or laser etching system are virtually non existent.

Laser Basics

The word laser is an acronym for light amplification by simulated emission of radiation. The laser beam is formed in a sealed tube with an electrode set, laser gas, and electrical discharge. The beam is emitted into a telescope which expands the laser beam from a size of approximately 2mm as the beam exits the laser tube up to 7mm to 14 mm for most laser marking or laser etching operations. The expanded beam is directed into a laser head containing two mirrors located on high speed galvo motors. The laser beam is directed off the mirrors though a single element flat field lens to the product being laser marked or etched.

Typically the laser marking or laser etching fields created range in size from 65mm x 65mm [2.5" x 2.5"] at the smallest size to 356mm x 356mm [14.0" x14.0"] square at the largest. The next consideration is the laser beam spot size. This is the size of the focused laser light energy at the laser marking or laser etching point on the product and can vary from approximately 200 micron [micrometers] or .0078″ at the smallest to approximately 540 microns or .021″ for Co2 lasers. The laser beam spot size ranges from approximately 20 microns or .0007″ at the smallest to approximately 70 microns or .0027″ at the largest for Nd:YAG lasers. These small spot sizes and highly focused laser light energy create the detailed, clear, permanent marking that is typical of the laser marking or laser etching process.

Controlling Lasers and Laser Marking Options

Laser markers and laser etchers are controlled via software. Several variables need to be controlled:

1. Laser power as measured in watts

2. Frequency, meaning the pulse frequency of the laser beam

3. Inches per second, meaning the speed that the beam steering mirrors are moving

Determining the correct setting for the laser is the single most important and critical element in the success or failure of the laser marking process. Once the proper settings have been determined and demonstrated a 100% repeatable laser mark can be achieved.

Laser controller software is accessed via a PCI interface card. This sends the digital signals of the computer based marking or etching files to the motors and directs the laser beam to the product being laser marked or laser etched.

There are several different types of laser marking and laser etching and several different considerations in terms of visual results for the laser mark or laser etch.

1. Laser etching produces a visible etching or depression into the material. Laser etching replaces traditional process like mechanical press or pin scribing. Laser etching can be done with either a Co2 or YAG laser on virtually any material surface and to any depth from very light etching to very deep etching. For example, laser etching is used to engrave serial numbers into metal gun frames. Generally speaking with laser etching the material being laser etched is vaporized at the laser etching point due to the typically high power densities of the laser beam at the point of laser etching.

2. Laser marking produces a surface mark with very little engraving and very little disruption of the material surface. This is especially useful in certain industries such as discrete electric components, semi-conductor, electrical fuse, and ceramics where laser etching can actually damage part or change the conductive qualities of the part. Generally in order to produce the laser mark without deep engraving a high speed per inch setting for the galvo head is used.

3. Laser etching and laser marking generally do not produce any color changes and create a colorless impression. There are exceptions as certain plastics will sometimes react to and change color under either Co2 or YAG laser light. Also, in some cases, additives can be incorporate into the materials being laser marked or laser etched in order to produce a color change. Another exception occurs when the wavelength of either the Co2 or YAG laser is changed from those typically used in laser etching and laser marking. This can produce a color change after laser etching on some materials.

4. Laser annealing is another popular form of laser marking. This type of laser marking is generally undertaken with a YAG laser on metal surfaces using lower power, high frequency and slow writing speeds to produce heat on the surface of the product. Laser annealing can be used to replace electro chemical etching and ink marking as the laser annealing process creates a black mark with no etching. Care must be used, as the heat generated can cause iron in some metals to be pulled to the surface, and rust can result if the parts are subjected to sterilization after laser annealing. This can be an especially difficult issue for medical devices

5. Laser ablation is also a popular use for laser marking systems. In this case the laser is used to remove a layer of paint, anodized or some other material covering the surface of the part. For example this process is used to create bear metal contact points on a painted part, to allow battery connection as in cell phones, or to remove paint for identification of parts and manufacturer details.

High Power Laser Pointer & Portable Laser Applications

“A solution looking for a problem” – Charles H. Townes on the application of lasers.

Since lasers were developed, they have had numerous applications in a number of diverse fields. Listed here are just some of the application for high power laser pointers and portable lasers.

Astronomy

With a brilliant beam stretching for miles into the night sky, high power green and red laser pointers are excellent tools for astronomy. Easy and quick identification and pin pointing stars and other celestial bodies. No need for difficulties, frustration or wasted time pointing with your finger or trying to explain. A laser pointer can be used to identify and pinpoint any object in just a few seconds.

High power portable lasers can also be mounted on telescopes as a visual indicator of where the telescope is pointing. Portable laser is also ideal for mounting on GOTO mounts/telescopes to help direct other people with telescopes and binoculars to an object. With no duty cycle, an on/off switch and very durable construction, a portable laser can be both conveniently and easily mounted on almost any make of telescope and used by hand.

Red light is scattered less by the atmosphere than green light because red light has a longer wave length making green lasers more visible and suitable for astronomy. The light from green lasers also has the advantage of being the wavelength that our eyes are most sensitive to.

Most cheap low powered laser pointers are not effective to be used in astronomy. The beam from these lasers is too weak and easily obscured by ambient light, smog and fog. The beams from high power laser pointers will easily be visible at night in the worst of conditions with the higher powered models even being visible during the day. Perfect for dawn and dusk astronomy.

Photography

Lasers are visually stunning and are used to create very impressive and dynamic photographs. When a camera is used on extended exposure, a high power laser pointer can be used to draw, make pictures and create marvelous visual effects. The proliferation of laser photographs online is a testament to the popularity of lasers and photography.

Lasers and photography is not just limited to lasers pointers and hobbyists. Specialist lasers with short powerful pulses make high speed photography with exposure time of several trillionth of a second possible.

Aiming devices

As a sports person out for some target practice or a soldier on the battlefield, high power laser pointers can help you improve your aim and accuracy. With a range well in excess of 10 miles at night, laser pointers will give you the ability to line up any target in visual range. Even in broad daylight, the green laser dot will be a visible aiming point that can greatly improve accuracy.

Construction/Alignment

On construction and building sites, high power laser pointers and portable lasers are ideal for engineers and site mangers to point out details and features. The laser beam dot is clearly visible in all conditions allowing the quick and efficient identification of features on a site. Effectively saving money through the reduction of wasted time and minimizing errors.

Laser pointers are also used for aligning objects over long distances. High power laser pointers are commonly used by both road construction crews and ground keepers at major sporting venues, world wide.

Avian dispersal

Farmers, airport ground controllers, pet owners and naturalists all use portable lasers as a non lethal method of avian dispersal. Lasers have been instrumental in the reduction of bird strike rates and in effective avian predator management for a number of protected bird species.

Both laser pointers and portable lasers are used by farmers from various countries to supplement their avian dispersal programs. By using our lasers, farmers have been able greatly reduce their cost (rifle or ammunition costs) with zero impact on wildlife and still adhere to local laws for wildlife protection.

Laser shows & entertainment

No rave or dance venue now is complete with out a laser show. The same can be said for any major out door event with the Asian games, Commonwealth games, Afro-Asian games and Olympic games being classic examples.

Both high power laser pointers and portable lasers can also be used with basic optics to create similar light shows on a smaller scale. The shows you can do with lasers range in complexity from a simple star diffraction grating to a more elaborate set ups with galvanometers and dichroic mirrors.

Medical

Lasers in medicine have a wide range of applications range from vision correction and surgery to wound cauterization and the acceleration of soft tissue healing. In brief, the lasers used in are divided into two categories, high power green lasers (3000mW to 10000mW) and low power red and infrared lasers (1mW to 500mW).

High powered lasers are used to cut through tissue and seal/cauterize wounds where as low level lasers are used to treat injuries and promote healing. Though not designed medical use and not to be used with out medical approval, high power laser pointers and portable lasers and infrared laser pointers do in both theory and practice have medical applications.

Non lethal deterrent

Laser pointers and portable lasers are now commonly used by law enforcement agencies and armed forces around the world as a highly effective method of non lethal deterrent. The beam from these lasers can temporarily overwhelm a hostiles visual senses and cause severe disorientation, effectively neutralizing them without resulting in permanent eye damage or the use of force.

Military applications for laser pointers range from painting targets and directing troop movements to warning potential hostiles. Portable lasers are also used by the military to how to warn/deter suspicious or aggressively driven vehicles that approach checkpoints or convoy operations with out using potentially lethal force.

High power laser pointer has been used by a number of coalition force members in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Being durable, field portable and with a beam that can span the largest battlefield, well built high power laser pointers are ideal for the role of non lethal deterrent.

Experiments

Lasers can provide you with hours of fun conducting experiments that provide insights into light, optics, electronics, energy and lots more. Much more beneficial and enjoyable a boring class room or stale text book.

Experiments can range in complexity from some as simple as popping a balloon (heat conduction and reflectivity) to as complicated as bending light (wave propagation).

Camping/Hiking

Laser pointers and portable lasers are great aids for camping and hiking. There is nothing worse than being stuck out in the middle of the bush during the wind and rain and with wet matches and not being able to light a fire. High powered lasers are great for lighting fires. Lasers with a beam that is visible for miles can also be used to signal for help in the event that you are lost or need aid.

Lasers can also provide adequate illumination at night that unlike a normal torch, will not ruin your night vision. High power laser pointer are so light and small, you can hike with them in your pockets and not even notice the weight. The larger laser portable lasers weigh the same as a small flashlight and can easily fit in your back pack. It’s also strong enough to survive the heaviest pounding and roughest trail.

Having Fun

There is nothing like having the coolest high tech gadget with a lethal sky spanning beam to impress your friends. Just imagine the look on their faces when you start popping balloons and lighting matches. Not to mention the attention you’ll get when you use your laser outside at night projecting a bright green/red/blue light that goes for miles. High power laser pointers and portable lasers are definitely not toys but they are a lot of fun.

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