All companies want the same thing: to deliver high quality products and to prove to our customers that they can rely on us. It doesn’t matter if you deliver raw materials like aluminum ingots or materials that have been transformed like aluminum die cast parts. Tracking is everything! We all want to keep track of what we ship to whom, but we also want our customers to see the quality of our products and realize (with data supporting this assertion) that they can rely on us.
That's why most companies in the metal production value chain are tracking their products and have put in place traceability systems. You are probably already tracking your production with technology such as a pin stamp, industrial inkjet or stickers. But due to costs related to maintenance or consumables - or simply the poor reliability of your marking system or machines – perhaps you are looking at laser marking systems to replace your actual systems.
However, being a neophyte with laser marking technology means there are a bunch of new terms to understand. I think that one of the most common questions from our customers is: What is the difference between laser etching, engraving and annealing? Following are a glossary and videos that will help you to better understand each type of laser marking.
When etching is performed, the laser melts the surface of the material. By doing so, the heated surface expands and creates slight bumps. Laser etching creates a good contrast between the material and the marking code. It is an efficient process to create permanent markings on materials. This type of laser marking is well suited for applications where the tracking code has to be scanned, such as a one-dimensional (1D) or a two-dimensional (2D) barcode. Following is a video showing how fast a laser can perform and the contrast that can be provided.
Through the engraving process, the laser literally vaporises a thin layer of your material to create a tracking code. So instead of creating slight bumps such as in the etching process, the laser ablates tracking codes onto the material. This can be done by programming the laser to send a highly localised beam to a specific place on your part. Most of the time this method is used when the tracking codes don't need to be scanned such as with alphanumeric serial codes. The following video clearly shows an example of laser engraving. Notice that contrasts are small with this process.
Like laser etching, laser annealing is about heating the material instead of engraving it. During this process, the metal is heated from underneath its surface which provokes a modification of the material’s color. By using different temperatures we can achieve different colors. This type of marking can be performed on ferrous metal and titanium. The difference between annealing and etching is that annealing is a chemical modification instead of melting the material’s surface. To the eye, the difference is subtle. Watch the next video to see what we are talking about.
Which suits you best?
Each laser marking process mentioned above answers different needs. Among the criteria that you will have to consider in your decision making process are: the type of material(s) on which you wish to create a mark and the type of tracking code required (scan code, 2D code, alphanumeric code).
Stay tune for the next blog post to learn how to choose the best marking process. By the way, if you would like to learn more about the different tracking codes and how they work, please click on the button below to get our eBook on the topic.
How barcodes work
Guide about Industrial Traceability