In the past decade, the automotive industry has undergone a period of growth and evolution, unlike anything it has experienced before. The battle was no longer played in terms of horsepower or acceleration. Instead, customers wanted cars that had better fuel efficiency, required less maintenance, and were smarter. There is one aspect, though, that has remained a constant area of improvement – safety. Tracking and traceability of parts is an essential aspect in the automotive manufacturing industry, and this is where the technology of automotive laser marking parts and automotive laser etching has played a critical role.

Importance of traceability

High energy lasers have become the technology of choice for automotive marking in the last couple of years. In an industry where the quality and reliability of individual parts is paramount to the safety of its end users, both automotive manufacturers and supplier of parts have to establish accurate and reliable traceability and tracking system. With the more than 20,000 parts involved in making just a single automobile, maintaining traceability can only be done using a technology that is flexible, dynamic, and almost entirely automated.

LASER MARKING IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY

Automotive laser etching has been used to mark even the smallest of automotive parts such as ignition coils, radiator caps, cylinder heads, various valve covers. Automotive parts marking is capable of creating marks such as basic alphanumeric codes, data matrix codes, barcodes, part numbers, and even QR codes.

An effective tracking system for parts ensures that the right part goes into the right car every single time. In case of failure of any single part, the same tracking system can also help in identifying the root cause of the failure and correcting the problem.

Laser etching technology is so precise and accurate that it can even be used to make traceability marks on the printed circuit boards (or PCB’s) that control the electronics in a car. These parts are so fragile, and the corresponding markings are so small that there is probably no other technology that can make the marks so accurately and yet handle the individual electronic parts without damaging them.

Automotive laser marking has also been used to make labels on the interior parts of the car. These include the labels on the speedometer and the buttons of the car radio. Safety-related devices in the interior of the car, such as seatbelt and airbag components, are meticulously marked to document them as being quality-tested. Engravings on various parts, such as gear numbers on the shift stick and the car manufacturer’s logo on the dashboard, are also rapidly and accurately made using automotive laser technology.

Automotive parts that you think that the manufacturer would not bother marking, such as windshield wipers and side mirrors, are probably still very subtly marked. Beyond identifying these parts in the production line, having unique codes even on the most basic parts of a car is an effective measure against counterfeit or imitation parts. Aside from etching, laser technology has also been used in the automotive industry for cutting of custom-shaped fabrics and textiles. Aside from the flexibility in the shapes that laser cutting can produce, the contactless nature of the process ensures that the material being cut does not undergo deformation or secondary damage.

Benefits of automotive laser parts marking

There are various advantages to automotive laser etching that has made it the technology of choice for automotive manufacturers. It is a well-developed technology with various turnkey solutions which can be easily integrated into any production line. Laser marking system commonly comes bundled with its own software package which has been designed to be user-friendly and with a small learning curve.

The system can work with dynamic data to make progressive marks with minimal user intervention. Being almost entirely automated, laser marking systems are not labour-intensive and will free up technical operators to concentrate on the more involved steps of the manufacturing process. The low level of user intervention also means that laser marking technology is highly accurate, consistent, and reliable. Since laser marking systems have very few moving parts, its maintenance needs are also lower compared to other similar technologies.

Fast production line marking

Laser marking technology is also incredibly fast. Even highly detailed designs, such as small barcodes or QR codes on PCB’s, hardly take more than 5 seconds to finish. This means that incorporating laser marking to the automotive manufacturing process is quite seamless since it creates little to no disruption.

Non-contact technology

Laser engraving for automotive parts is the only non-contact technology used to mark equipment parts and traceability codes. This means that there is very little wear and tear on the parts of the laser marking equipment, so repairs and parts and replacement should be very infrequent. Not coming into contact with the part being marked also means that there is little chance that the part will be damaged during the marking process. The same cannot be said for more traditional marking processes, such as dot-preen engraving.

Permanent and legible

Aside from being precise and accurate, the marks made by laser etching technology are also known to be legible and permanent. This is incredibly important in automotive parts that experience incredibly high temperatures and frictional forces, such as components of the braking system or piston engine parts. A detailed study has shown that the brake rotor can heat up to a temperature of 900 °F when brakes are engaged at high speed so a part number that does not degrade with heat can be particularly important.

Cost-efficient

Compared to other methods of marking of automotive parts, laser etching technology is still more cost efficient. Being fully automated and having few moving parts, automotive marking using laser technology will deliver savings on workforce reduction and less frequent replacement of equipment parts. The reduction in secondary damage to parts because of the contactless nature of laser technology also means that you may see fewer production defects. Other etching methods, such as chemical etching, also involve the use of chemicals which are an additional cost and introduce more problems with regards to waste disposal.

Materials

Another considerable advantage of automotive laser marking is the flexibility of materials that it can work with. It can be used to make permanent marks on light metals, steel, plastics, and glass. For practically any material used in automotive parts, there is most probably a variation of laser marking technology that can work with it.

Summary

Automotive laser marking technology has become a competitive edge in today’s automotive industry that has become very fast-paced but still puts merit into safety, quality, and traceability. With laser marking, automotive manufacturers have a solution to their traceability needs that is fast, cheap, reliable, accurate, and highly flexible. Best of all, this technology can be offered as a turnkey solution that fits right into any existing assembly line.

Laser marking is the only contactless technology which can produce highly-detailed marks on even the smallest automotive parts. These marks are also permanent and tamper-proof, which is especially important for automotive parts that undergo the most extreme conditions. Being contactless, manufacturers can rest assured that there will be no secondary damage to the automotive parts during the etching process.

If you are looking for reliable and accurate technology in marking automotive parts, which will also deliver savings and streamline your process, then automotive laser etching is undoubtedly the best choice.

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