Advantages and Disadvantages of Etching with Beam-Steered Laser

This year,Advantages and Disadvantages of Etching with Beam-Steered Laser Articles over one-third of all material processing lasers will be installed for product or package marking applications. Since their introduction in the early-1970’s, laser markers have evolved as an effective tool for manufacturers who require a combination of speed, permanence, and image flexibility not available from more traditional marking technologies.

Two marking system designs have emerged with notably different strengths and weaknesses. Careful consideration of these laser and imaging optics combinations can provide the optimum tool for a wide range of marking requirements.

Process FundamentalsLaser marking is a thermal process that employs a high-intensity beam of focused laser light to create a contrasting mark. The laser beam increases the surface temperature to induce either a color change in the material and/or displace material by vaporization to engrave the surface. Both marking system configurations utilize this principle of surface modification but differ in the method used to project the laser beam and create the marking image.

The beam-steered laser marker provides the greatest degree of image manipulation. To create the marking image, two beam-steering mirrors mounted on high-speed, computer-controlled galvanometers direct the laser beam across the target surface. Each galvanometerĀ provides one axis of beam motion in the marking field. The beam projects through a multi-element, flat-field lens assembly after reflecting off the final steering mirror. The lens assembly focuses the laser light to achieve the highest power density possible on the work surface while maintaining the focused spot travel on a flat plane. The laser output is gated between marking strokes. This design offers the user the advantages of a computer generated marking image and utilization of the entire laser output for the highest marking power possible.

The mask or “stencil” marking system sacrifices image quality and versatility for significantly increased marking speed. The marking image is created by enlarging the laser beam, projecting it through a copper stencil of the desired image, and refocusing the beam on the target surface to “burn” the image into the material. A single pulse of the laser creates the entire image. If the alphanumeric characters must be altered part-to-part, (i.e., serialization, etc.), computer-controlled rotary stencil wheels index the characters. This technique is aesthetically limiting in that images exhibit a “stencil” appearance with breaks in the marking lines. Since the mask blocks a high percentage of the laser beam, marking power and resultant surface penetration is limited.

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