On the first week of August 2018, Apple became the world’s first one trillion-dollar company. From its humble beginnings in the garage of Steve Jobs, the exponential rise of Apple is a testament to how essential technology has become today. Consumer electronics make up a considerable part of this sector, and anyone can see why – smartphones, laptops, and even smart cars are everywhere. With its vast potential, electronics and semiconductors manufacturers must come up with faster and more efficient ways to make their products. This is where laser PCB etching technology comes in.

What is PCB laser marking?

Laser etching, or laser marking, refers to the use of lasers to engrave an object. In this process, a highly focused laser is directed onto a specific point or pattern in the object of interest, thereby using the energy from the laser to create very accurate and controlled markings on the object. Lasers can typically focus on a very small area – about a fraction of the millimetre – while keeping the surrounding area unaffected. The markings are the result of the laser’s energy vaporising the material or causing the material to fracture and flake off the surface.

What are the benefits of laser marking a PCB?

Laser marking is a technology that scales up well in response to increasing demand, while still maintaining efficiency, quality, and safety. It is a quick and fully automated process that can fit right into a production line. Additionally, being a non-contact method of etching or marking, it reduces the wear and tear that the original material goes through during the marking process.

The laser system is also capable of etching highly detailed designs – both accurately and consistently. Dynamic data such as serial numbers and part numbers can be integrated into the process without the need to change parts or for regular user intervention. Most laser etching equipment also comes with software that has been developed to be user-friendly and easy to learn.

How is laser PCB etching used in the electronics manufacturing process?

In the manufacturing of electronics, laser etching has been used to create customised process control boards or PCBs.

PCBs are the brains behind most consumer electronics, providing a compact system for the controlled connection of different electronic components. Laser etching technology allows custom PCBs to be manufactured rapidly and with pinpoint accuracy. In terms of speed, accuracy, and cost, laser etching trumps all other methods of PCB manufacturing.

Aside from executing PCB designs, a PCB laser etching machine can also be used to mark various electrical components with critical information such as barcodes, part numbers, 2D and UID codes, QR codes, serial numbers, batch numbers, logos, and business information. These marks allow manufacturers to improve traceability, identify specific electrical components during warranty claims, enforce trademark protection and more.

Electronic parts and components

Laser etching is used to mark semiconductors, circuit breaker parts, metal and plastic housings, and other surface-mount devices or SMDs. These electrical components are practically everywhere – from your oft-used smartphone to the circuit breaker in your basement, the electronics in your car, and even to the satellites orbiting in outer space.

Laser etching can be used to mark most industrial materials such as wood, marble, ceramic, granite, and several metals. Metal etching is commonly done by applying a thin layer of paint to the metal surface first, which the laser vaporises during the etching process. Due to the temperatures that high energy laser can produce, materials that are prone to melting or burning are not appropriate for laser etching, as well as those that produce toxic fumes when burned. Examples of these include common polymers including HDPE, ABS, PVC, and Epoxy.

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.

Laser etching vs alternative technologies

Compared to other methods of marking electronic parts, laser etching is known to produce marks that are permanent and remain legible for a very long time. Other engraving methods such as dot-peen marking, or hand engraving cannot be counted on to produce traceable marks that will not fade over time. This is the reason that products that require lifetime traceability often resort to laser etching over all other methods.

What’s more, laser etching is a non-contact technology, thereby preventing secondary damage to electrical components that more traditional engraving methods are prone to do. This also means that there is less wear and tear on the marking equipment, significantly lowering the costs needed for regular replacement of parts.

Laser etching also does not use toxic solvents, inks, or acids that are essential ingredients in chemical etching or inkjet marking, making it a more environment-friendly alternative. The costs associated with laser etching is generally smaller compared to other engraving or marking methods due to the absence of chemical consumables and its low power requirements. Design changes can be implemented rapidly and reliably with laser etching technology, and a single laser etching setup can be used to engrave on different types of materials.

The laser etching machine can also fit right into an assembly line and become a fully automated machine. As a result, the laser technology offers a much faster operation other than other marking or engraving methods. For the most part, there is little disruption to the manufacturing process, and lack of human intervention also means that parts marked using laser etching come out with consistent quality.

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Summary

With the increasing reliance of today’s society on electronics, the manufacture of electrical components has become one of the most lucrative and productive industries. As a highly competitive industry, electronics companies nowadays must come up with ways to manufacture faster, cheaper, and more efficiently.

Laser technology provides a method for marking and etching of PCBs, semiconductors, and other electrical components that are faster, more cost-effective, reliable and accurate. In turn, this provides higher resolution marks and prevents secondary damage to the electrical components. It fits snuggly into any assembly line, ensuring minimal disruption while delivering top-notch results.

If this is the kind of business advantage that you are looking for, then a laser PCB etching machine is the perfect solution for you.

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