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The use of lasers for marking has become commonplace in many industries and applications, according to Rofin-Baasel UK.

Many of the everyday products we take for granted, including computer keyboards, are marked using a laser.

There are, however, other less well-known applications where lasers are used to mark individual items with data matrix codes, barcodes, serial numbers, dates and other pieces of information for a variety of reasons.

The flexibility of the laser, combined with its capability to mark a range of metals, has seen the technology become the process of choice for manufacturers of high-performance components, such as those used in aerospace or Formula 1 race cars, at one end of the spectrum and jewellers, who use lasers to mark and engrave precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum and titanium, at the other.

Formula 1 race cars have, on average, around 3,500 individual components that are subject to a process of continuous improvement.

Add to this the fact that any one team will have three cars (two race cars and a spare) and there are around 10,000 individual components that need to be managed at any given time.

As part of an effort to continuously improve reliability and safety, part marking and traceability is now becoming a must for even the smallest individual components, with Formula 1 and other motorsport teams taking component identification very seriously.

Laser marking has now become the preferred solution for this industry as the laser is able to produce good permanent ‘readable’ codes on virtually all materials without compromising the structural integrity of the component.

The laser is flexible and can produce either round or square matrix elements, although, for dense information, squares are often preferred.

In addition, the laser is able to mark small codes (down to 1 x 1mm), which is not possible using other marking techniques.

As a result of their small size and large data capacity, the data matrix codes make it possible to identify nearly every component on the car from wishbones and steering racks to pistons, fuel injectors and even nuts and bolts.

Laser marking produces a high-quality permanent mark that is able to withstand the extreme conditions – such as heat, abrasion and caustic fluids – often found in high-performance applications such as motorsport or aerospace.

Rofin has installed several Powerline E-10 end-pumped vanadate laser sources at a number of Formula 1 facilities.

The high beam quality produces a small focused spot and this, combined with short pulse lengths, enables high-quality matrix codes to be produced on almost all materials, including steel, titanium and aluminium.

The Powerline E-10 laser can produce codes much smaller than 1 x 1mm, according to the company, but both the mechanic and the code reader would struggle to find and read the code.

The ability to produce such a small code means that nearly all components used in a Formula 1 car can now be permanently marked and subsequently identified and tracked.

As a specialist manufacturer of high-precision threading and grooving systems, Posithread UK offers a range of threading inserts, thread mills, grooving tools and tool holders.

These tooling components, often designed and manufactured to customer specifications, must be correctly marked and identified prior to shipping to the end user.

It is essential that these parts can be identified time and time again when they are being used within an arduous manufacturing environment.

For certain industries, such as oil and gas, many components are safety-critical parts and manufacturing a part using the wrong threading insert or machining an incorrect thread form could have serious consequences if the part fails in use.

It is important, therefore, that the identification marks on the individual inserts and tool holders remain clearly visible.

Posithread uses a Rofin Easymark II compact laser marking system to generate the component identification marks on its range of tooling and inserts.

The system operates from a single-phase 240V power source and does not require any external cooling.

Having a fully enclosed marking area, Easymark II is designated as a laser class 1 device and, therefore, has the same safety requirements and classification as a CD player.

The heart of the system is a diode-pumped Nd:YVO4 laser source, which is capable of marking a range of materials, including metals and plastics.

The additional rotary axis used by Posithread enables the system to mark both flat and curved components with minimum operator intervention.

With a marking field of 120 x 120mm and the capacity to accommodate components up to 450 x 150 x 200mm in size, the system fulfils the marking requirements of Posithread.

The laser marking of jewellery has become an important part of the success of many jewellery manufacturers, according to Rofin.

Laser technology provides all of the benefits of contact-free, abrasion-resistant and permanent marking for most materials, such as platinum, gold, silver or titanium.

Thanks to high-speed precision and the possibility of deeper engravings, marking lasers have now replaced diamond engraving at numerous jewellery manufacturers and high-street jewellers.

This was not the case at the beginning of the millennium, however.

When early users began employing laser marking systems, the man-machine interface in particular proved to be a restraining factor.

Parts could not always be put into position with sufficient accuracy by hand and the adjustment and setting of the system sometimes required the extensive programming knowledge of Visual Basic.

The high investment costs initially associated with marking lasers also impeded the uptake of the technology.

However, the introduction of the low-cost Rofin Easyjewel system, specifically designed for jewellery manufacture, reportedly brought about a rapid change in the adoption of laser marking technology within the jewellery industry.

The jewellery marking application involves engraving the inside of rings.

Here, the precision of the laser allows the generation of motifs that cannot be achieved using conventional methods.

Facsimiles of handwriting in calligraphic quality with different line widths can be reproduced true to the original.

The company claims that another characteristic of the laser is efficiency.

A standard engraving with a depth of two to three tenths of a millimetre can be completed within a few minutes, including setup times.

A single fixture is used to grip parts either internally or externally, thus providing the capability to produce marks not only on the inside and outside of the part but also on its faces or edges.

Having entered the basic geometry and material parameters, the user can then determine the optimum marking position using the precise jogging feature and then see a live preview from the online camera, leaving no doubt about the position or quality of the finished product.

Rofin’s Easyjewel marking software automatically makes geometric corrections for applications that require a non-perpendicular approach to the marking area.

Large marks can be achieved with the help of the auto-tilting function.

Rofin laser systems offer the benefits of non-contact, abrasion-resistant, permanent marking on many different materials with high speed and precision.

The company offers a range of lasers for marking applications, including CO2, YAG, Vanadate and fibre lasers.

Rofin-Baasel UK Ltd is the UK sales and support subsidiary of Rofin Sinar Technologies Inc, which is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of industrial lasers and is quoted on the USA NASDAQ stock exchange. Rofin makes lasers and laser systems for marking, welding, cutting, drilling and perforating and offers sources and solutions across all the main industrial laser technologies CO2, solid state and fibre lasers. Our lasers are employed in most manufacturing markets to give customers unprecedented results in terms of quality and throughput. We have over 30,000 installations in industries such as medical device, electronics, automotive, jewellery, tool and mould, aerospace and solar power. Examples demonstrating the range of capabilities of Rofin lasers include: * In-line packaging material manufacturers use our lasers to create ‘easy open’ perforated lines in packaging. * High street jewellers buy our microwelding workstations to make and repair jewellery. * Surgical tool and implant manufacturers produce clean and permanent identification marks on their products with Rofin markers. * Photovoltaic customers rely on laser operations from scribing to drilling to make solar panels and wafers. Rofin-Baasel welcomes the opportunity to show customers what lasers can do for them.

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