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The Switch from Traditional Engraving to Laser-Based Techniques

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The oldest ever recorded engraving by a human was 430,000 years ago! Ever since then, we have been searching for a new and better methods of adding engravings to a wide variety of materials through an ever-evolving range of technologies.

One of the recent shifts has been the switch from traditional engraving techniques to laser based methods. Laser technology has existed since the 1960s, but a switch to laser has particularly gained momentum in the past fifteen years. We go on to discuss the switch in this article.

Traditional engraving techniques

There are many traditional techniques, which have been used to engrave various materials, some of these include (but are not limited to):

  • CNC engraving – computer-controlled engraving through a CNC machine
  • Machine based hand engraving – the operator by hand uses a machine to engrave a material
  • Manual engraving – simply using a hammer and chisel

Examples of manual hand engraving tools

Why is there a need to switch to laser?

As with all processes, manufacturers are looking for the best, lowest cost, optimal way to manufacture goods. Engraving is just one process in a large number required to manufacture goods. Simply put, manufacturers have switched to laser engraving, because there is a business case to do so (see the benefits section below).

What is laser engraving?

Laser engraving is the process of using a laser to make a clear and legible engraving on a variety of materials (e.g. ceramics, metals, plastics, rubber and silicon, etc.)

The engraving is achieved through a focused laser beam, which is aimed at the material surface. The laser can be directed with absolute precision to ensure that exactly the correct amount of material is vapourised in a process, which is called irradiation. The laser can create an engraving to the exact depth, size and shape required.

A classic example of laser engraving on this gear stick shift knob

The benefits of lasers vs traditional engraving techniques

There are many ways in which lasers deliver benefits compared to traditional methods, we have summarised these below.

Environmentally-friendly benefits

Lasers typically used reduced levels of power compared to traditional engraving methods, which is partially due to the speed of operation. Chemicals and solvents such as chlorides and acids aren’t needed as the laser engraves through irradiation. A lack of chemicals helps to reduce waste, there is minimal waste with laser engraving, whereas traditional methods tend to create a “dross”. A combination of the above, reduced power, no use of chemicals and less waste also means that the laser process is also very environmentally-friendly.

Operator benefits

The process is also much safer for operatives of equipment. Lasers engrave materials in a totally contactless process, this means operatives don’t have to touch other materials, which also helps avoid risks of cross-contamination. As we said above, lasers also avoid the need for chemicals, which reduces operative injury risk and also the prevalence of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Once a laser has been programmed the process is highly automated and operates at very fast speed, which reduces the skill levels of staff needed and also reduces the risk of error.

Cost reduction benefits

Many of the factors above lead to fiber lasers operating at a lower cost, there are no need for chemicals (which also reduces storage space), lower power charges, less waste to clean up, less error and wastage of materials and also reduced staff absences due to workplace injury. In addition, the engraving process can also simultaneously be integrated seamlessly into other laser-managed processes.

Quality benefits

Undoubtedly, lasers engrave to a much higher level of accuracy than was traditionally possible. In manufacturing the absolute levels of highly repeatable accuracy are perfect for assembly lines. Lasers can engrave a wide variety of metals from tough metals and even diamonds all the way to more delicate materials such as silicon, which have a massive demand in electronics and semi-conductor industries.

Lasers can engrave with absolute precision, infact 100% accuracy with the operator having absolute control over where material is engraved. Finally, lasers can work at a wide variety of depths from light engraving (c0.2mm) all the way to deeper engraving, which is as much as 1.5mm.

A laser engraving machine at work

Laser integration with other processes

Another benefit of working with lasers is that they can be used for many other processes, such as additive manufacturing, cutting, drilling and welding. This reduces the need to have a larger variety of dedicated machines, i.e. an engraver, a cutting machine, drilling machine, welders, etc. This saves on both capital outlay as well as the amount of space used for machinery.

The future looks bright for laser engraving

Laser technology will only continue to grow from strength to strength. With a growing number of laser engraving events and advances in technology the switch from traditional engraving to laser based techniques will continue at pace.

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