Lasers, the name of which was originally an acronym that stood for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation,” are powerful conveyors of heat and light that can be used for many different applications. One of these applications is laser engraving, a subcategory of both laser cutting and laser machining. Laser engraving is non-contact process used to create holes, patterns, marks or other alterations to material surface layers. To make these precision marks, high-powered laser beams, which are extremely focused radiation wavelengths, emit the heat energy required at predetermined focal points. This laser machining process is ideal for work on materials including glass, graphite, ceramics, polymers, silicon wafers, metals and metal alloys.
Laser engraving, which may also be referred to as laser etching, is a process that is typically controlled and carried out by machines consisting of three main parts: the laser, a surface and a controller. The surface serves as an area upon which materials to be engraved are positioned. Meanwhile the controller, which is most likely a CNC computer, takes dimension and design inputs from an human operator and CAD computer program, respectively, and uses this information to decide where exactly and with what speed, spread and intensity to point the laser beam. Note that the focal point is usually smaller in diameter than one millimeter. Once focused, the laser beam goes to work, fracturing or vaporizing material surface layers until the preliminary design has been achieved. If a manufacturer chooses to vaporize the surface layers of a material, rather than fracture them, it is likely that he or she will also choose to use a ventilation system of some sort, such as a vacuum pump system or blowers. This is because the vaporization of material almost always creates smoke and noxious fume byproducts. After the material is engraved, assist gases such as carbon dioxide or nitrogen are used along with the laser in order to prepare the freshly engraved surface for finishing processes including painting and fortify it against corrosion. Depending on the type of engraving being conducted, laser engraving machines can be programmed for the surface to remain stationary while the laser moves or they can be programmed for the laser to remain stationary while the surface moves. Laser engraving tables that employ a stationary surface and a moving laser are called X-Y tables.
Laser engraving is typically divided into two overarching categories: raster engraving and vector engraving. In raster engraving, the laser beam slowly marks the surface layers of a material by moving back and forth across it in a linear pattern. In this case, the laser works in an on/off pulsing mode, creating a raster type of image. To better understand this, note that in computer graphics, the raster graphics images are those composed of a dot grid matrix. Raster engraving is usually conducted on cylindrical workpieces or flat workpieces mounted on cylindrical surfaces. Vector engraving is done on X-Y tables. In this laser engraving process, the laser beam follows the lines of the engraving pattern. Another way of thinking about this is that laser engraving is used to draw vectors; vectors are geometric objects that have a direction and magnitude, or length.
Laser engraving is a valuable service for countless reasons. One reason for its value is the simple fact that it can be done quickly. In addition, because it is a non-contact process, it has many natural advantages over other hand and mechanical engraving processes such as burin engraving, such as the facts that: it eliminates the possibility of human error, it creates complete uniformity, it removes the nuisance and added cost of bit breakage and tool wear and it is generally more cost effective. With the inclusion of CNC technology, laser engraving churns out identically and intricately engraved products at much faster paces than processes like hand etching and hot stamping. CNC technology also allows customers and manufacturers to collaborate to create much more unique, ambitious and interesting designs. Laser engravers have much to offer to customers in the automotive, architectural, construction, electronic, medical and transportation industry alike. Some of the most common services they offer include: sub-surface laser engraving, direct laser imaging, printing, calibration and promotional product creation. For more information about how laser engraving services can benefit your application or to learn what services an individual manufacturer may be able to offer you, browse the companies we have listed on this page. IQS Directory only works with the most capable and most trusted manufacturers. Reach out to one or more today.
More Laser Engraving Information
Laser Engraving Informational Video