Steel engraved applications
Outside of the medical and automotive industries, laser marking of stainless steel has been used for the accurate and permanent marking of cutlery, signages, and jewelry. Aside from its rapid turnaround being optimal for high-volume production, lasers also provide an unmatched level of design freedom. Characters as small as 2pt and even photo-realistic designs can be quickly and accurately reproduced on signage, personalised gifts and trinkets.
CO2 and Fiber laser machines
There are two options for laser technology that can be used to engrave stainless steel: CO2 and fiber. CO2 machines, being the older technology, generally involves less capital cost to buy and install. However, this lower capital expense can eventually be offset by maintenance and parts replacement costs.
CO2 systems are particularly sensitive equipment that requires frequent adjustment and realignment. Moreover, CO2 lasers are not readily compatible with cutting and engraving of reflective materials, including stainless steel. Without any pre-treatment, CO2 systems will only recoil off of a metal surface. Laser etching stainless steel using a CO2 machine often involves coating the metal part with a specialist paint, which the laser then “burns” off.
On the other hand, fiber systems have become the standard technology for metal engraving. Merely varying the wattage output of a fiber laser allows it to create different markings and engravings with varying depths. A fiber machine is also very accurate – with diameters as low as 0.1mm, fiber lasers can create incredibly detailed designs. Best of all, fiber machines do not require pre-treatment to etch stainless steel.
The major drawback of using fiber laser systems is that the purchase price of the equipment is much higher. However, the systems make up for this by being incredibly robust. They generally require less maintenance and have fewer moving parts that need to be periodically replaced. A fiber laser also finishes the same amount of work faster – the output of 2 or 3 CO2 machines can be reproduced by a single fiber laser system. In terms of electrical efficiency, fiber lasers are clearly the winner, using only about a third of the power to produce the same amount of work as a CO2 laser.
Depending on the material you are working with, and the throughput you require, either a CO2 or a fiber laser can be the most effective marking solution for you. Each one has its strengths and drawbacks, and the appropriate selection of technology is the first step towards the successful implementation of a marking system.