Metal Engraving and Marking with Fiber Laser Machines

For almost any metals you want to mark, fiber laser machines provide readable marks quickly and efficiently. They’re ideal for engraving all types of hard or soft metal surfaces. Examples include aluminum, anodized aluminum, steel, stainless steel, magnesium, lead, and zinc.

Fiber laser machines are low maintenance, use no consumables, and create high-contrast marks. You can use them to permanently mark anything, including data matrix codes, QR codes, serial numbers, barcodes, and logos. The unmatched quality of the marks makes them perfect for traceability, quality control, and process improvement.
 

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Metals You Can Mark with a Fiber Laser Machine

Each type of metal absorbs light and conducts heat differently. Your metal part is thus at the core of choosing the right fiber laser machine for your application.

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  • Aluminum

    Because aluminum surfaces have a high thermal conductivity, fiber lasers can mark aluminum at a high temperature for high-speed applications, creating high-contrast marks. Whereas laser etching is the fastest process, laser engraving is the most resistant.

    Aluminum 380 and Aluminum 6061 are the most common laser marked alloys, but all aluminum types can be marked. This includes die cast, general-purpose, pure, and anodized aluminum.

    Aluminum parts: Die castings, coils, extrusions, billets, ingots, sows, rolling slabs, and more

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  • Steel

    Steel is a hard material that requires longer marking times than other metals. However, the marking or engraving speed can be increased by creating white marks instead of black ones. It’s possible to generate white marks that contrast with the bare steel color on most steel types.

    For high-speed marking, laser etching is the best process for steel surfaces. Laser engraving should be used to get the most resistant marks. Laser annealing, which creates marks under the surface, offers the best resistance to corrosion. You can laser mark anodized steel, carbon steel, die steel, stainless steel, or any steel alloy.

    Steel parts: suspension springs, brake pads, coils, billets, plates, pipes, tubes, sheet steel, and more

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  • Stainless Steel

    Laser marking is most often used to mark stainless steel grades 304 and 316, but it can be used to mark any grade. The preferred marking method for stainless steel is laser annealing since it protects the chromium oxide layer on the metal surface. As a result, you get high-quality marks and prevent the formation of rust on the surface.

    Fiber laser marking machines used for stainless steel don’t need a high laser power. This is because laser annealing functions at a lower temperature than other marking processes.

    Stainless steel parts: Fuel tanks, exhausts, suspensions, and other automotive parts

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  • Anodized Aluminum

    When marking anodized aluminum, you can either mark the bare aluminum or the oxide layer depending on when you need the marking to be done. If you’re marking the bare aluminum, marking is done before the anodizing treatment. If you’re marking the oxide layer, marking is done after. In both cases, the part’s natural resistance to corrosion and abrasive wear is preserved.

    The laser machine configuration will vary depending on whether you’re marking the bare aluminum or the oxide layer. A laser engraving machine creates deep marks in the bare aluminum, which ensures that marks can be read after they’re anodized. A laser etching machine uses a fast marking process to etch high-quality marks on the oxide layer.

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  • Magnesium

    Magnesium is a metal that has a lower density than other metals and is thus used for parts that need to be lightweight. Laser etching machines can be specifically configured to etch magnesium and magnesium alloys. With laser metal etching, part of the material is removed from the surface, creating highly contrasted black and white marks.

    Magnesium parts: Steering wheels, transmission cases, engine casings, engine blocks, other auto parts, magnesium ingots, bundles, billets, gearboxes, slugs, and die castings.

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  • Lead

    Lead and lead alloys have a low thermal conductivity, which means that most of the heat generated by laser marking remains on the surface. Lead materials also have a low melting temperature, making it easy for lasers to induce marks on a localized surface. For those reasons, fiber laser machines used for lead etching require a lower-power laser.

    Lead part examples: cored stick anodes, ingots, and counterweights

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  • Zinc

    Zinc is not only used for its corrosion resistance, but also for its ability to be die casted. Laser etching is the only laser marking process that generates a high contrast on zinc parts. It can be used regardless of the zinc alloy.

    Zinc part examples: ingot bundles, jumbo blocks, die cast ingots, anode ingots, slabs, die castings, automotive parts, and more

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Why Choose Fiber Laser Machines for Metal Marking?
 

Automated Marking Solutions

The laser marking and engraving machines manufactured by Laserax are ready to be integrated into production lines. They can either be fully automated or semi-automated.
 

Fully Automated Machines

Fully automated machines don’t need operators to perform the marking operation.

  • The Open-Air Machine
    uses a robotic arm to move parts to and from the marking station as well as to hold them during the marking operation.
  • The Rotary-Table Machine
    uses a robotic arm to fix parts onto its rotary table. This machine is most efficient since parts can be marked while the arm loads and unloads parts.
  • The Conveyor On-The-Fly Machine
    performs the marking operation “on the fly”. This means that parts are still moving on the conveyor while marking is performed.
  • The Conveyor Static Machine
    performs marking in a laser enclosure while the conveyor is stopped for other processes like quality control, bundling, or weighting.

 

Semi-Automated machines

Semi-automated machines need an operator for part of the operation.

  • The Rotary-Table Workstation
    relies on an operator to fix parts onto a rotary table and activate the machine. This workstation is a versatile marking solution, as it can be moved to different locations on the shop floor. The fixtures can also be changed to mark different metal parts.

 

100% Laser Safe Integration

Without proper integration, fiber laser systems can cause eye and skin injuries. That’s why you should rely on recognized laser expertise for your laser markers. This way, you’re certain that your machine is safely integrated into your production line, and that you don’t need to implement any additional safety measures.

With Laserax, your work environment is 100% laser safe. Our fiber laser machines are designed by engineers and laser experts who make sure they comply with international safety standards as well as with any applicable local standards.
 

Laser Power Adapted to Your Metal and Cycle Time

Thanks to a range of laser powers, laser marking can be optimized to follow your cycle time while minimizing costs. With fiber marking, you can choose from different laser powers, ranging from 20W to 500W.

The Laserax team also optimizes laser parameters for your application. Examples of parameters that are adjusted are the repetition rate, the line spacing, the pulse energy, and the focus spot size. By adjusting those parameters, it’s possible to achieve a faster marking speed as well as a better contrast for your marks.
 

Reliable Systems with Consistent Results

Laser technology is highly reliable and adapted to the most challenging industrial applications. Since fiber systems don’t have any moving parts, they require very little maintenance, and the readability of your codes won't degrade due to mechanical wear. Fiber laser components are also very durable, with a laser source that has a mean time between failure of 100,000 hours.

With a fiber laser marking system, you get high-contrast marks and a near-perfect readability rate. The resulting marks are permanent and easy to read, providing a traceability solution you can rely on.
 

Focus Systems Designed to Mark Different Part Geometries

Laserax offers different focus systems designed to allow lasers to mark flat, curved, or even unknown surfaces with high precision:
 

  • 2D Focus Systems
    are ideal for the marking of metals with relatively flat surfaces, accounting for a variation of up to 6 mm from their focal plane.
  • 3D Focus Systems
    are equipped with sensors used to adjust the laser focus while marking the curved surfaces of metal parts.
  • 3D Autofocus Systems
    are equipped with an autofocus-vision system that can verify which part is being marked as well as its positioning. They can also adjust the laser focus when marking curved surfaces.

 

Processes for Laser Marking Metals

Once you get your machine, it’s already configured for specific marking processes. Its configuration options are mostly based on the metal being marked. For future applications, the same machine can be configured to mark a different metals.

A machine’s configuration depends on its laser parameters. Examples of parameters that can be modified are the laser power, the movement speed, the pulse duration, and the number of laser passes. Each configuration corresponds to one of the following laser marking processes: laser engraving, laser etching, laser annealing, and laser ablation.

Laser engraving machine for metals

Fiber laser machines are used to engrave marks that resist surface treatments and wear and tear. Laser engravers are configured in such a way that they create deep markings in the metal. An example of metal laser engraving is shotblast resistant marking. This process creates marks that are deep enough to keep their high readability after a shotblast treatment. When engraving metals with this process, you can implement traceability earlier in the production process.

You can laser engrave: Steel, Aluminum, Anodized Aluminum (before anodization)

Metal etching machine

A laser etching machine offers the fastest marking speed possible. For example, Laserax is able to etch high-quality data matrix codes on aluminum parts in just 1.40 seconds (for a 16x16 DMC of 10x10 mm; find out more about marking speeds for aluminum here).

The laser etching process is the best choice for most applications, unless you need increased resistance to surface treatments, corrosion, or wear and tear. In those cases, laser engraving or laser annealing might be better adapted to your application.

You can laser etch: Steel, Aluminum, Anodized Aluminum, Lead, Magnesium, Zinc

Other machine configurations

Laser machines can also be configured for laser annealing and laser ablation. Laser annealing is used to avoid any damage to the part surface. It does so with a chemical reaction that creates marks under the material’s surface. This is useful, for example, for stainless steel exhaust lines, which must keep a high resistance to corrosion.

You can laser anneal: Steel, Stainless Steel

Laser ablation offers a different realm of possibilities. This process generates marks by removing the part’s coating, such as its paint, and doesn't affect the underlying metal. The speed of the process depends on the coating, but it’s the fastest laser process. Find out more about cleaning speeds for metals contaminants here.

You can laser ablate: Any coated metals

 

Laser Machine FAQs

  • What’s the difference between CO2 lasers and fiber lasers?

    CO2 laser marking machines produce a different wavelength than fiber lasers. As a result, fiber lasers are quite efficient at marking most metal surfaces, whereas CO2 lasers are better at marking non-metal (organic) materials like wood and plastics.

    Read more on the subject: CO2 vs. Fiber Laser - Which One Should You Buy?

  • What’s the difference between laser cutting and laser engraving?

    Laser cutting uses laser technology to cut materials whereas laser engraving is focused on etching. Laser cutters use continuous-wave lasers, whereas laser engravers use pulsed laser beams. The laser engraving process rarely exceeds 100W, but it reaches higher peaks of energy. Laser cutting machines can continuously function at 6,000W of laser power, but they reach lower levels of energy.

  • Should I engrave QR codes or data matrix codes?

    QR code laser marking is still used in many applications. Yet when compared to QR codes, data matrix codes offer an important advantage. They’re indeed capable of encoding more characters in the same space, which often means faster marking speeds since the codes can be smaller.

    Read more on the subject: Data Matrix Codes vs. QR Codes - What Is the Difference?

  • How much does a laser machine cost?

    There are many factors that affect the price range of a laser machine. Do you need a fiber laser system or CO2 laser system? Which focus system is best for your application? How much laser power do you need? What kind of machine is needed to integrate the laser system? Which features are included in the laser equipment such as the laser head? Those are just some of the factors that affect the price of a machine.

    Do you need a machine for metal marking?

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  • How long does it take to mark with a laser?

    Industrial lasers can achieve permanent results quickly. In most cases, the difference between one marking application and another is a matter of seconds. The laser marking time depends on several factors:

    • Engraving a hard material requires more energy and more time.
    • Marking a pitch-black contrast takes more time than a shade of gray.
    • The more powerful the laser, the faster the marking speed. A 100W laser will be almost twice as fast as a 50W laser.

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