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Laser Marking: That’s Not All You Can Do With Laser Markers!

In our last blog, we explored when laser markers make sense in comparison to other marking technologies. Key reasons included high mark and material variation, fragile material, and mark durability. But did you know laser markers can also be used for machining? Yep – your laser marker can do double duty as a micromachining system!

Although laser markers are typically used for labeling parts with serial numbers and other identification codes, they can also be used for some basic material processing, e.g., drilling holes and cutting materials. While they may not function as well as a laser designed specifically for the process, they can provide insight to the feasibility of the process. Here are some of the manufacturing processes that can be achieved with lasers:

  • Drilling removes material to create a hole in a material. Laser drilling is achieved by repetitively hitting the same location until enough material has been removed for a hole. Hole diameters achieved with a laser can be as small as <50 um (depending on optics and material).
  • Cutting removes material to create a slot. Laser cutting works by directing the output of a high-power laser at the material to be cut. The material melts, burns, vaporizes, or is blown away by a jet of gas, leaving an edge with a high-quality finish.
  • Trimming utilizes a laser to adjust the operating parameters of an electronic circuit. By selectively removing material from the surface, a device like a resistor can be fine tuned.
  • Scribing removes material just to a certain depth so it can be easily broken along the lines created.
  • Ablation removes material from a solid surface by irradiating it with a laser beam. This is done without damaging the substrate below.

micromaching applications resized 600

Micromachining with a laser marker has distinct advantages over competing technologies including the fact that it is a non-contact technology, there is no need to retool the machine for each job, it can work with fragile, brittle materials, and laser markers are great for precision part work down to the micrometer scale.

Yes, there are some limitations to laser processing. The time required to do each of these processes depend on the laser power available and the properties of the material (type, thickness, etc). In addition, the properties of the laser beam inhibit particularly deep drilling and limit the aspect ratio achievable for holes close to the beam diameter. In spite of those limitations, laser micromachining has become a major industrial tool for a wide range of industries.

Laser markers are generally low powered variants of the ideal laser micromachining system, but could be used for R&D, providing an indication of part manufacturing feasibility, or low volume production.

So keep that in mind the next time you have a micromachining application – and give your laser marker a go at the process!

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