Laser Marking Process: What You Need To Know

Over the last few years, laser marking machines have become increasingly popular throughout the industrial packaging and manufacturing fields. 

Market reports show that laser systems are commonly found in today’s food, beverage, and pharmaceutical production lines due to their fast marking speeds and high accuracy. Automotive manufacturers, aerospace part developers, and electrical component production facilities also utilize laser systems due to their versatile coding capabilities and high-quality results.

To meet the needs of different industries and operations, coding and marking companies offer a variety of laser marking technologies, including:

These different systems have ideal applications and differing operating principles, but all complete the same basic marking process. Laser marking machines generate high amounts of energy to create focused beams of light. The machine releases the beam toward a substrate. The beam’s energy alters the material’s surface, color, or leaving behind a highly-defined marking.

Laser systems direct their beams with sophisticated computer programs, providing users with complex design possibilities, including:

  • Company logos 
  • Miscellaneous images
  • Traceable text, such as batch, lot or date codes
  • QR matrices and other scannable codes

If you have been considering integrating laser technology into your operation, this article is a great place to start your research. Here, we take a look at key elements of the laser marking process to examine how companies utilize laser machines in their manufacturing and packaging workflows.

Laser Systems Can Complete Conveyor Coding and Stationary Marking Applications

Laser systems can fit well in a variety of production workflows. Unlike continuous inkjet printers, which must be placed on conveyor belt production lines to code materials, laser systems can operate as both production line marking machines and stationary systems.

As a production line coding solution, laser systems offer industrial speeds. Large-scale food and beverage companies frequently utilize laser systems to mark thousands of products a day with required codes and markings. The speed and reliable accuracy of laser systems enable high-volume packaging operations to meet demanding output quotas with minimal coding errors. 

As a stationary marking solution, laser systems can complete complex coding applications. Inkjet printers and other industrial coding systems cannot complete stationary applications because their printheads cannot move—a conveyor must move the substrate in front of the printer to create the code. A laser can move within an established print window, allowing users to mark stationary parts with codes, images, text, and other information that fits within the window.

Stationary marking is particularly useful for placing traceable markings on automotive parts and aerospace components. Due to strict traceability standards, automotive and aerospace part developers must outfit their products with highly readable, long-lasting codes that won’t degrade with time or be affected by elements like heat, light, and physical handling. Laser systems are ideal for creating these kinds of durable markings and, as stationary devices, they can handle traditionally challenging surface shapes. 

Laser Marking Machines Require Certain Safety Precautions 

Fiber, CO2, and UV laser systems all use high heat to create product markings. To maintain a safe facility, operators must take certain precautions to prevent exposing workers to the negative effects of the laser marking process. 

For example, beam shields are an absolute necessity. Laser systems produce both direct and scattered laser radiation. Beam shields contain the radiation and protect workers from potentially dangerous exposure. 

Fumes pose a similar risk to worker health. When a laser makes contact with a substrate, it naturally releases fumes into the air. Depending on what substrate is being coded, these fumes may contain toxic materials such as:

  • Nitrogen Dioxide
  • Lead
  • Cresol

Fortunately, fume extractors provide a simple solution. Once installed, a fume extractor will vacuum up the fumes, filter out any hazardous particles, and release clean air into the facility. 

No Consumable Costs and Minimal Maintenance Requirements

The laser marking process carries fewer consumable costs than industrial printing. 

Printers require regular ink/makeup replacements, yearly maintenance, and regular cleanings to operate correctly. Laser systems have no fluid expenses—their only consumable costs arise from regular filter changes and periodic tube replacements after around five years of use. Regular cleanings are easy to do yourself and professional maintenance is usage-based as opposed to annual. 

Material Testing is a Necessity

Laser marking systems are known for their wide material compatibility. Although material compatibility will vary based on machine type, energy output, and other model specifics, laser systems are generally compatible with:

  • Rigid plastics
  • Flexible packaging
  • Metals
  • Glass

Of course, material categories like plastic and metal are expansive and contain many different substrates. While a fiber laser machine may be able to mark aluminum and steel without an issue, a CO2 system won’t be able to create consistently high-quality markings on these materials. Conversely, a CO2 system can mark paper, wood, and textiles, while a fiber system cannot. 

To avoid marking mistakes, it’s important to:

  1. Research material compatibility before investing in a laser system, and
  2. Run material tests to ensure that your system can produce consistently excellent codes.

Have More Questions about the Laser Marking Process? InkJet, Inc. Has Answers

Laser marking is the fastest, most accurate coding method on the market today. Fiber, CO2, and UV lasers provide users with the speed and power necessary to complete today’s most demanding code applications. 

If you are interested in adopting a laser system into your operation, InkJet, Inc. can help you develop an efficient workflow that is optimized for your applications. Our expert team is available to discuss your operational needs and recommend specific solutions that will boost your output efficiency. Contact InkJet, Inc. today to learn more. 

For more information about the laser marking process, contact InkJet, Inc. online or call 1(800) 280-3245.