Buyer’s Guide: Understanding Laser Machines

Laser machine processing types

How can I source laser machines by processing types?

When you start to source a laser machine, the first response is to search by processing type. In this case, the first thing you’ll find is that there are many different names for similar laser processing systems. Because laser is a new technology, many traditional process names have been borrowed to fit Laser applications. To understand the different types of laser processing, laser system and industry applications, we can categorize the laser processing types in a few ways.

Laser Micromachining

One way is by the scale of the laser processing path, like cutting kerf, welding seam and engraving line width. We can divide the laser processing types into micromachining and macro-machining.

Generally, precise laser cutting, marking, and engraving processes are categorized as laser micro-machining. As such, their spot sizes are usually under 100 microns. More specifically, “laser micromachining” specifically refers to the high quality and consistency demanded of micro-engraving, micro-drilling, or micro-forming. Because of the short wavelength requirements for ultra fast laser sources, microscope machine vision and high-resolution axis motion control are required for this configuration.

Laser micromachining is used primarily in the semiconductor, electronics, and new energy industries.
For IC failure analysis, the laser de-capsulation, laser cross-sectioning, and laser de-lidding are the most popular processing subtypes, which can replace traditional chemical etching and mechanical micro-milling.

For electronics and PCBA manufacturing, the laser micro-drilling, laser de-paneling, laser direct structuring are popular subtypes.

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Laser Marking and engraving

Laser marking has a wider scope than laser engraving. Any permanent mark left on a workpiece surface is considered laser marking. To distinguish this laser marking from engraving, it is easiest to narrow the scope down to the “no sunken smooth surface” laser marking. The typical application is sterile laser marking for surgical devices and implants.

As such, laser marking has many aliases. These include laser ablating, laser embossing, laser peening, laser etching, laser wearing, laser annealing etc.

Laser marking and engraving have the most application scenarios in many different industries.These include, firearms, aerospace, medical and pharmaceutical, automotive and auto parts, trophy, jewelry, Sportswear.

The under 100 Watt low power fiber laser and CO2 laser are the major configurations for laser marking and engraving processes. The quality criteria could be as simple as “observed good contrast”, or even high resolution, restrictive wearing tests, container closure integration test, UDI or UID readability test, anticorrosion test etc. Some needs will require laser machining lasers.

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Laser Cutting

By comparison laser cutting processing has a fairly clear concept scope. It refers to the process of separating the workpiece with a laser “knife”. Usually the laser cutting system can also do the processes of laser piercing, laser blind drilling, laser scribing or laser engraving.

For laser-precise cutting, 150 to 1000 Watt laser sources should be configured; while for high power laser cutting, the lasers are usually above 1kWatt, up to 15kWatt laser sources need to be integrated.

The major uses of laser cutting are in shops with jobs involving sheet metal, post-printing die cutting, and wire processing.

For a sheet metal job, the laser cutting system can replace the traditional punching machine, plasma cutting machine, CNC milling machine or water-jet machine. Laser cutting can process the metal plate, foil, pipe, and tube.

In a post-printing job, the laser cutting system can replace the traditional blade or mold die cutting machine.

In a wire processing job, the laser wire stripping mechanism can guarantee “no nick” undamaged wire stripping, replace traditional mechanical or thermal wire stripper.

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Laser Welding

The Laser welding process also has a clear concept scope. Any laser beam heating and melting the workpiece or flux and connecting separate parts into one piece can be called laser welding. The laser welding system can also be used for laser brazing, laser soldering, laser sintering, laser cladding, and laser surface hardening.

Major users of laser welding are for precise instrument fabrication, jewelry repairs, mold repairs, sheet metal, and metal surface treatments.

Precise laser welding in the electronics, jewelry, and medical devices industries can replace traditional thermal soldering, ultrasonic welding, and electric resistance welding.

High power laser welding can replace traditional gas flame welding, arc welding and high temperature surface treatment, and output better results than traditional processes were unable reach.

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