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Agiecharmilles has introduced a range of three-, four- and five-axis laser-ablation machine tools.

The machines complement Agiecharmilles’ existing machine-tool portfolio of high-performance wire and spark-erosion EDM machines and three- and five-axis vertical machining centres.

There are six machines in the laser range.

These are the Laser 500 (three-axis standard entry machine); the Laser 600 3Ax and Laser 1000 3Ax (three-axis machines); and the Laser 600/1000/1200 5Ax models (five-axis machines).

Martin Spencer, managing director at Agiecharmilles, said: ‘Our laser-ablation machines enable manufacturers to texturise, engrave, mark and label products (machined parts and electrodes).’ Laser ablation is a process for removing material from a solid surface by irradiating it with a laser beam.

At low laser flux, the material is heated by the absorbed laser energy, causing the surface of the material to evaporate or sublimate.

At high laser flux, the material is typically converted to plasma.

The depth over which laser energy is absorbed, and thus the amount of material removed by a single laser-pulse, depends on the material’s optical properties and the laser wavelength used.

Laser pulses can vary over a wide range of durations (milliseconds to femtoseconds) and fluxes – and can be precisely controlled.

This makes laser ablation attractive for a number of research and industrial applications – and the process has many advantages: no solvents are used, so the process is environmentally friendly and operators are not exposed to chemicals; it is relatively easy to automate; the running costs are lower than dry media, etching or CO2 ice blasting; the process is gentler than other abrasive techniques, so delicate/fragile materials are not damaged; and heating of the workpiece surface is minimal, ensuring its integrity.

The advantages of the laser-ablation process in machining materials such as aluminium, steel, copper, graphite, ceramics, carbide and brass mean it has a wide application potential.

These include: mould tools and dies for the automotive sector; PET moulds; jewellery and watch making; electrode texturing; texturing of micro-structures; and engraving and labelling.

The new laser machines give manufacturers the creativity and freedom to replicate different textures and finishes on parts.

The required textures can be obtained from a variety of sources (such as images/photographs/scans) and are then converted into bitmap/greyscale modes using graphic-software programs such as Adobe Photoshop.

These files are then transferred to the Laser machines’ control systems, where mapping software is used to create the desired surface effect (2D or 3D topography) via step and repeat or synchronous laser-pulse movement.

All machines in the laser range have two optical axes, and depending on their construction and function, three or five mechanical axes.

The machines have a rigid design and cast-iron construction (good vibration absorption characteristics) and are equipped with linear scales (0.5um resolution) and rotary encoders for high accuracy.

All machines feature an Agiecharmilles programmable tilting laser head (on the five-axis Laser machines), a high-resolution camera for fine positioning, 3D touch probe (0.001mm resolution), a laser ‘red’ pointer (for laser positioning), and different focal lens capability (from 100 to 254mm).

Different laser powers – 20W (standard) to 50W and 100W (optional) are also available and increase the application potential of the Laser machines and the productivity and flexibility of the machines can be increased via automation (programmable pallet changers).

The maximum workpiece dimensions that can be handled are 700 x 700 x 700mm (on the Laser 1200 five-axis machine), and maximum workpiece weight is 1,700kg (again on the Laser 1200).

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