Printing on Metal Parts

Printing on Metal Parts

Industry Trends Drive Demand for Metal Coding and Marking

Printing codes on metal parts and components has become essential in many industries, including automotive, aerospace, electronics, pharmaceutical, and beverage. Codes can be used for traceability, to provide production data, and to defend against piracy and counterfeiting.

Videojet offers fiber laser marking machines and continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers for printing on metal surfaces such as nickel tubes, stainless steel plates, aluminum cans and lids, and other machined or formed metal parts. Codes may be numeric, alphanumeric, 2D, or conventional bar codes.

Videojet fiber lasers are industrial metal engravers that permanently mark codes and other product identification directly on metal parts. Laser-wavelength options provide greater flexibility in matching the given material. CIJ printers are also an excellent solution for printing on metal. Videojet offers MIL SPEC inks to meet specific military and aerospace requirements.

Industry Trends

  • Direct part marking has become a preferred traceability method in the automotive and aerospace industries.
  • Robust growth in micro-electronic component manufacturing is driving demand for micro codes to track parts and fight electronics counterfeiting.
  • Numerous countries, including the United States, have developed and/or enacted track-and-trace regulations for pharmaceuticals. These typically require unique product identifiers.

How Can Videojet Help?

  • Print complex, high-resolution micro codes that can stand up to chemical processes.
  • Produce unique codes to ensure traceability of parts throughout the manufacturing process and distribution chain.
  • Create permanent codes on metal parts at high speeds with no consumables via fiber laser marking.
  • Apply codes to convex, concave, irregular, and other challenging surfaces using non-contact continuous inkjet printing.

Details

Laser Marking and Printing on Metal Surfaces

Various types of laser marking systems are used to print or etch marks on metal surfaces. These permanent codes are essential to ensuring that genuine products and parts can be quickly identified. They are used in such industries as aerospace and automotive, as well as on consumer packaging such as beverage containers and pharmaceutical product packaging.

Marking effects:

♦ Color/paint removal as on green

painted opening piece

♦ Engraving as on top of can

Mark speeds:

Up to 80,000 cans/hour

 

Laser etching machines in use today include a variety of CO2, infrared, UV and fiber wire laser systems. Since metals are heat-resistant materials, marking metals originally required high-density laser irradiation. These systems mark surfaces in three ways, by marking, etching or engraving.

A range of laser machines is available today, however, that function with different power outputs to address a range of different metal substrates to be marked and different package or product applications. The metals being marked usually range from anodized aluminum to stainless steel and include coated metals, the surface of which can be removed in precise patterns by a laser to produce clear, permanent marks.

Given that these different laser systems work differently with various metals, it is essential that companies evaluate the different systems by using them to mark samples of their specific materials before choosing the most effective system for their need.

Fiber laser marking is the most often used for placing critical marks or codes on stainless steel surfaces. These higher power systems mark identification codes directly on stainless steel parts and on larger products by etching or engraving the surface. These codes may be numeric, alphanumeric, 2D or conventional bar codes.

CO2 laser marking systems using shorter wavelengths than the traditional CO2 laser wavelengths can be used to create marks on metal surfaces such as anodized aluminum. The process removes the color from the aluminum surface, exposing the bare metal surface beneath, creating precise characters for coding.

Laser systems are also used to mark surfaces that have been previously prepared by being coated with enamel paints, removing the paint surface to create alphanumeric characters and 2D codes in the exposed metal surface. This process has the advantage of using very low power lasers, reducing costs and speeding production. It also, because of its low power usage, produces little or no fumes or residues, creating a safe environment for workers.

Pre-coated and spray-coated surfaces have also been developed for use in laser engraving metals. These coatings apply a coating that is visible to the laser beam, which fuses the coating to the substrate as the beam passes. These coatings, when touched by the laser beam, change the surface of the metal to a different color (often black, brown or grey) to create the desired mark.

Stainless Steel Laser Marking

Fiber laser marking machines are the preferred systems for placing critical marking on stainless steel surfaces. These systems are used to mark identification codes directly on stainless steel parts and on stainless steel plates that are attached to larger products. These codes may be numeric, alphanumeric, 2D or conventional bar codes.

The laser marking process alters precisely targeted areas of material on the stainless steel surface to create a highly visible code in the material. Fiber lasers are compact compared with solid state or gas lasers of comparable power, and their high peak power and nanosecond pulses produce superior engraved results. Their higher power and better beam quality provide cleaner cut edges and faster speeds. The laser marking process eliminates the possibility of important identification information being blurred or obscured during or after application and becoming unreadable, since it is a permanent part of the product. Stainless steel laser marking has become increasingly important in industries where the authentication and traceability of individual parts has become more critical, such as aerospace and automotive, as well as the production of medical devices.

Stainless steel laser marking engraves codes on parts and products at the high speeds required by industrial production. Many are capable of engraving up to 900 marks per minute. The lasers are also capable of directing their beams to mark targets as they move among production lines, supporting higher productivity. The process creates permanent codes that ensure identification is possible throughout the life of the product.

Laser marking is the only coding technology that will successfully permanently mark stainless steel. Companies that have used inkjet and thermal transfer codes have found that those codes are quickly erased. As the ability to trace parts and products has become increasingly necessary to companies, the permanence has increased in importance.

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