Industrial Laser Trends

Blog on laser marking & traceability, laser cleaning and safety standards

Industrial Traceability in the Aluminum Industry with Laser Marking

Accountability is currently one of the most important priorities in manufacturing, especially in light of recent scandals, such as the Kobe Steel fumble. If a  supplier steps out of bounds, it can have a negative impact on as many as 500 clients.* Within your organization, would you be able to trace down the destinations of even one batch that would have failed to pass minimal standards?


This presentation was first given by Mr. Paul Rochette at Aluminum USA 2017.

Photo: Mr Paul Rochette, Sales Director Primary Metals at Laserax
Paul graduated in Mechanical Engineering. He has over 20 years of experience in product management and international sales of technological solutions in the energy and metal industries. Paul is known for his professionalism. He has led numerous restructuring, growth and sales diversification projects and always exceeded expectations.

Traceability Benefits

There are many benefits to improving such industrial systems. The benefits we can think of include: optimized inventory control, enhanced production efficiency with the identification of improvement areas, and reduced  scraps and non-quality costs. In case of faulty products, you would be able to find all the customers affected on a part-by-part basis. Unique part identification is customary in the aeronautic, defense and automotive industry. You can expect, as time goes on, that your customers in a wide variety of industries will follow suit.

Industrial trackability involves an important flow of information, the following figures illustrates that flow for an aluminum producer and for its client.

 

Flowchart: Information flow for aluminum producers
Figure 1: Informations flow for an aluminum producer

 

Flowchart: Information flow for the aluminum producer's client
Figure 2: Information flow for the aluminum producer’s client

Some Solutions

The industrial solutions offered by Laserax to trace products throughout the value chain involves Direct Part Marking (DPM). With DPM, the producer etches information directly on the surface of the parts. It can be performed using different technologies. You can leverage the full advantages of DPM when the complete information related to a product is captured directly on the product’s surface. That can mean a lot of data, we’ll discuss later on how that can be achieved. For now, suffice to say that you will need a system that can hold a large amount of data.

Photo: Direct part marking (DPM) on aluminum sample with Data Matrix Code (DMC)

Figure 3: Direct Part Marking (DPM) on Aluminum Sample with Data Matrix Code (DMC)

With DPM, the information that an aluminum producer can decide to etch on any of the products it produces can be extensive, including the batch number, alloy identification, plant identification, logo and warning, just to name a few. At Laserax, we feel strongly that Data Matrix Codes (DMCs) is the way to go. DMCs are 2D codes similar to the very popular QR Code; however, they are uniquely adapted to industrial applications. The advantages of DMCs, apart from featuring a lot of information is that they have redundancy built-in, meaning that even if part of the code is damaged during handling, it will still be legible by commercially available 2D scanners and imagers.

Video 1: Laser engraving of an aluminum billet

The final aspect to Laserax’s traceability solution for the aluminum industry is laser direct part marking, such markings are permanent. It provides a higher contrast than other marking technologies, which helps with the legibility for human eyes, 2D scanners and digital cameras or imagers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we’ll discuss the specifics of laser permanent marking on aluminum a little later. In the meantime, it is important to note that DPM, DMC and laser marking together provide a reliable solution to the traceability challenges of the aluminum industry.

Marking Challenges of the Aluminum Industry

Video 2: Laser engraving on an aluminum sample

Nobody wants their takt times to increase because of the addition of a new system on the production line. This means that the first marking challenge is ensuring short marking times.

A second challenge has to do with the position of the parts in relation to the laser. The more controlled the position of the parts, the easier they are to mark. Lasers need to focus on the surface to be marked. If the parts’ positions vary, the laser system will have to compensate for the variations.

Some products, as we all know, have terrible surface finishes. This is the third marking challenge. Although bumpy and fissured surfaces can easily be marked with a laser, commercial 2D imagers or scanners might have a hard time to read a marking.

Another challenge has to do with the temperature of the surface to be marked, as we’ve seen parts with a temperature of up to 500 oC. This is particularly challenging for technologies that have to touch the surface to be marked,

Thermal treatments are common in the aluminum industry. Preheating, homogenization and aging are examples of such treatments. Other surface treatments include anodization and shot blast. Most marking technologies won’t resist to even the mildest thermal treatments, but our technology does.

The last marking challenges have to do with contaminated surfaces; lots of marking technologies have a hard time with contaminated surfaces. Contaminants are a dime in a dozen, the most common are cutting fluids, water residues and kerosene-based lubricants. Lasers can easily cut through any contaminants, but you might have to clean the surface prior to marking with other technologies.

All of these challenges: short marking time, part positioning variations, bad surface finish, high temperature, thermal and surface treatment can be addressed and resolved with laser marking.

Laser Direct Part Marking Benefits

Video 3: Laser etching on an aluminum sow

Lasers have been around for a very long time: the first laser was constructed in Hughes Research Laboratories in 1960. Laser are used in many industrial applications for cutting or welding steel on car assembly lines, among others. But today, we’re all interested in another application: laser marking.

Laser engraving is:

  • Permanent;
  • As resistant as its base material;
  • Resistant to most thermal treatments;
  • Resistant to some surface treatments;
  • Providing highly contrasted markings;
  • Very low maintenance;
  • Consumables free.

Laserax  Solutions

Laserax, with their very powerful lasers (up to 200 w), provides fast laser marking and on-the-fly marking capabilities. In order to withstand the harsh environmental conditions, we encounter frequently in the aluminum industry, Laserax has developed options, such as the A/C cabinet for laser sources and controllers that are rated for ingress protection. It keeps dust and moisture away from the optical systems and the laser system controllers. Laserax has developed laser systems that can mark on surfaces that are flat, curved, tilted and multi-leveled. Some of our lasers can focus on surfaces that vary within an envelope of up to +/- 70 mm, within a working distance of 503 mm and a marking surface area of 284 mm x 284 mm. All these characteristics are packaged in Laserax’s new modular approach. The first module includes the lasers, the second module contains the safety enclosures and the third module includes the options.

In the Value Chain

Laserax has developed solutions that meet the needs of every stakeholder in the production value chain. The following table sums up Laserax’s features for different aluminum products and processes:

tableau recap 2.png

Table 1 : Example of laserax marking solutions for the aluminum industry

Key takeaways

Direct Part Marking (DPM), Data Matrix Codes (DMC) and laser engraving together provide a robust and complete solution for industrial traceability in the primary metal and manufacturing industries. Laserax manufactures laser systems designed to solve the challenges faced by the aluminum industry throughout the value chain.

If you are interested to learn more about the inner workings of a laser, the differences between laser engraving and inkjet printing, or dot peen marking read these other blog posts. For any other questions about laser technology feel free to...

Contact a Laser Expert


Laserax is a laser system manufacturer that provides efficient, innovative and safe solutions for the most demanding industrial applications. We rely on a team of laser technology experts to offer a complete range of products and services for marking, cleaning, cutting and welding applications.


Sources:
Shane, Daniel (2017, October 16). The Kobe Steel scandal: What we know so far. Retrieved October 20, 2017, from http://money.cnn.com/2017/10/16/news/companies/kobe-steel-scandal-what-we-know/index.html
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