What is Laser Dust Removal and How is It Used?

authorIcon By Alex Fraser on March 02, 2021 topicIcon Laser Cleaning

Laser dust removal is the process of removing dust from a surface using laser ablation. Any types of dusts produced in work environments can be removed, such as metallic, plastic and organic dust. As the laser beam irradiates the surface, burnt off dust is vaporized and extracted using a dust extraction nozzle. 

Removing dust is faster than other types of contaminants because dust layers are much thinner.  

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Is Dust the Only Contaminant to Be Removed?

Dust is rarely the only contaminant that must be removed from a surface. More than often, thin oxide layers (which are created within a few days/hours when parts are stored in an uncontrolled environment) must also be removed. Other types of debris can also collect on part surfaces. 

Fortunately, laser cleaning systems can remove all types of contaminants at once—not just dust. Aluminum oxide, stainless steel oxide, rust, powder coating, e-coating, and other types of contaminants can be removed as well. 

Laser cleaning solutions include handheld lasers, on-the-fly cleaning machines, rotary tables, robot arms, and a lot more. 

Common Dust Removal Applications

Laser dust removal is used to ensure that surfaces are perfectly clean before processes like welding, powder coating, and adhesive bonding. In each case, the laser cleaning process needs to be adjusted to meet specific application requirements. 

For example, some manufacturers need a textured surface to improve adhesion before coating or bonding processes. Laser systems can be used to do just that by modifying the surface’s roughness while cleaning it. This complementary process is known as laser texturing

For welding applications, the laser does not modify roughness. It rather makes sure that the part’s integrity is preserved after welding by leaving the metal surface unharmed and by preventing contaminants from penetrating the welds. 

In other cases, parts must be cleaned a second time. This is often the case with shelved parts, as dust has had time to collect on the surface. 

Other Methods Used to Remove Dust

Traditional dust removal methods include manual surface cleaning, burn off ovens, and ultrasonic baths. 

Manual Surface Cleaning

Manual cleaning involves removing dust using a clean cloth and an adequate cleaning product such as acetone. This method can provide good results, but mistakes happen: operators forget to clean certain areas, use dirty cloths, touch the cleaned surface without sterile gloves, or simply lack consistency and precision. 

Burn Off Ovens

Burn off ovens get rid of organic materials and residues by decomposing them into vapors and gases. Although these ovens are typically used to remove powder coating, they are also used to remove dust in controlled environments. Burn off ovens are expensive to run and have a large footprint. 

Ultrasonic Baths

Ultrasonic baths are filled with acetone, alcohol or another liquid. They emit ultrasonic waves that travel through the liquid to dislodge dust. Although effective, this process is long and requires skilled operators. 

The Benefits of Laser Dust Removal

The benefits of laser dust removal are many, offering speed, accuracy, consistency, and automation. This is the only method that can realistically process large volumes and be installed directly in production lines, making it an important technology for part manufacturers. Lasers can also be installed in white rooms where high tech, finishing jobs are performed. 

Fiber laser systems are easy to automate, require no consumables, and are low maintenance—leaving no room for human error. Alternately, manually operated workstations are simple to use as they come with intuitive HMIs. 

Fiber lasers can also perform selective dust removal to clean specific areas only, a feat that is hardly possible with other technologies. This is particularly useful for welding applications where only specific areas need to be cleaned.

Tips for Laser Dust Removal

Successful dust removal is not only about cleaning a surface. Other important considerations must be factored in: 

  • Once you’ve cleaned the parts, handle them with care to avoid recontamination
  • Perform post-process treatments right after the parts are cleaned to prevent dust collection and oxidation
  • Use an efficient dust extractor (with a proper airflow) during the cleaning operation to prevent dust from recollecting on the surface

If you need to remove dust and think laser cleaning is a good fit for you, contact our experts to discuss your requirements.

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Alex Fraser's picture

Alex Fraser

With a PhD in Laser Processing, Alex is one of the two laser experts who founded Laserax. He is now Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, overseeing the team that develops laser processes for laser marking, cleaning, texturing, and welding applications.