Ceramic Industry

Make Your Mark

March 1, 2008
CO2 laser systems are beginning to be used in the creation of art on multiple types of tile and glass.


Due to the increased demand for permanent and cost-effective marking methods worldwide, laser technology has moved to the forefront to meet the needs of manufacturers in almost every industry. Advances in laser technology in recent years have paved the way for many manufacturers to mark and track their products with a seamless flow in their production lines.

Fiber and new CO2 laser systems have emerged as the most efficient and cost-effective marking and cutting technologies available for a variety of applications, including ceramics and glass. From minuscule products such as ceramic wafers and surface mount technology (SMT) capacitors to large tile and glass murals, laser technology allows for consistent and repeatable accuracy and speed.

In the past, while lasers had been utilized for scribing applications that entailed fired alumina substrates, using lasers for the processing of ceramics was generally limited due to the large size, decreased reliability and higher operating cost of traditional CO2 lasers. Recent technologies have led to new laser methods that provide endless possibilities for ceramic processing. The development of these new industrial lasers has since increased, allowing them to be used for scribing, drilling, profiling, welding, engraving and marking applications. Today’s laser systems are equipped with multiple types of lasers, but fiber and CO2 lasers have proven to be the most reliable for a variety of applications.

Recent technologies have led to new laser methods that provide endless possibilities for ceramic processing.

Fiber Laser Systems

Fiber lasers are highly efficient, use less energy than conventional lasers and require virtually no maintenance (no lamps to replace or mirrors to clean). Due to their increased speed and accuracy, fiber lasers are capable of replacing outdated Nd:YAG systems, giving users greater marking capabilities on most materials.

Fiber lasers are also eco-friendly because they consume less power than conventional methods, and can “plug and play” into a 120-volt outlet. Their 100,000 hour maintenance-free head allows for continued production with no service interruptions. Fiber lasers have no consumables, a small footprint and require very few replacement parts. These lasers represent the first real improvement of laser technology for a variety of applications in decades, and should rapidly become the new industry standard.

With a combination of stability and precision, fiber laser systems provide faster production, improved process yields and reduced downtime. These systems are superior to other marking methods because of their permanent high-quality marking capabilities. Fiber lasers are ideal for making service marks to help tracking and inventory, procedures that are becoming a standard among many industries that utilize ceramic material. Having control over inventory can improve efficiencies in production and help increase product life cycles.

SMT Capacitors

The fiber laser is ideal for marking any surface where there is a need to mark or label even the smallest components. SMT capacitors, for example, have specific voltages and other properties that need to be clearly identified. Since these capacitors can be as small as millimeters in length, several can be processed at once on a system* equipped with a conveyor line. This allows for seamless integration into the last stages of an existing production line. If correctly implemented, production can be significantly increased, resulting in a lower cost per unit.

Other benefits include virtually no maintenance, and low operating and maintenance costs. In addition, the user-friendly software does not require any retraining of CNC operators, can control any laser type and has WindowsTM 2000/XP reliability.

*With a Laser Photonics SBM 1200M sealed CO2 laser.

Automobiles

As a result of recent policy changes, non-destructive laser marking in the automotive industry is more prevalent than ever. The new “Tradeway” policy, which states that all automotive manufacturers must have permanent marks on all parts for tracing purposes, has led to an increased need for material marking methods for purposes like direct parts marking, unique identification (UID) and deep engraving, inventory control and renewal, and service marks.

The use of ceramics in the automotive industry has been increasing dramatically. Ceramics are currently used in over 50 different automotive applications, including ceramic spark plug insulators, converters, engine components, turbine parts and brake rotors. Laser marking has become an essential part of everyday operations in the automotive industry. In this competitive market, manufacturers are required to follow specific regulations while maintaining low operation and production costs.

Laser marking allows manufacturers to adhere to these strict part marking regulations while maintaining a cost-effective structure. Fiber laser systems are ideal for the production of service and inventory part markings. The systems’ high beam quality ensures extremely accurate results.

Solar Wafers/Semiconductors

Ceramic and silicon wafer manufacturers can improve their operating yield through the use of fiber lasers, which allow marking on an assortment of semiconductor materials, including silicon (Si), gallium arsenide (GaAs), germanium (Ge), indium phosphide (InP), silicon carbide (SiC), gallium nitride (GaN), gallium phosphide (GaP) and other compound materials, as well as low-k and multi-layer composite materials. As the solar industry continues to grow, many companies are acquiring laser technology for marking, decorative art and coating removal.

A CO2 laser system evaporates a portion of the material, which creates a series of dots to transfer a piece of art or photograph onto tile or glass.

Carbon Dioxide Laser Systems

CO2 lasers emit in the far-infrared area of the spectrum at about 10.6 microns, which is absorbed quickly by ceramics. The high output capability of the CO2 laser provides this quick absorption, which allows for high-speed and thick material processing. CO2 lasers are equipped with a maintenance-free head for up to 20,000 hours of use.

CO2 lasers are an ideal choice for cutting a variety of ceramic and silicon materials. When processing ceramic applications, the laser beam is used as the heat source to melt and vaporize the material. The CO2 laser takes a very narrow, consistent and accurate path to create the desired pattern or result. A pulsing technique is used when making precision holes. The laser repeatedly sends pulsed laser energy onto the workpiece, and condenses each layer until a hole is formed. Holes as tiny as .002 in. in diameter take only a few milliseconds to drill. If a larger hole is desired, the laser is reconfigured to create the desired size hole.

Glass Wafers

Glass wafer manufacturers are also now using sophisticated laser technology. With miniaturization becoming the new electronic standard, laser technology has emerged as the most precise tool for glass processing. Marking on a glass wafer is ideal for a CO2 laser system, which can be integrated directly into an existing production line. Apart from marking the glass wafer, a patented method for dicing the wafer has also been developed. Glass wafer dicing capacities are 0.3-0.5 mm thick on a 12-in. wafer.

Art Creation

As laser technology has improved throughout the years, the door to many previously unexplored applications has begun to open. CO2 laser systems, which are efficient at processing organic materials, are beginning to be used in the creation of art on multiple types of tile and glass for applications such as kitchen backsplashes, etched tile floors and etched glass doors.

A CO2 laser system evaporates a portion of the material, which creates a series of dots to transfer a piece of art or photograph onto tile or glass. If the ceramic tile is a light color, ThermarkTM or CermarkTM may be applied prior to firing the laser to produce a colored mark.

The sealed CO2 laser has become the laser of choice because of its fast absorption rates. It is possible for a 12 x 8 in. high-resolution mural to be completed in less than four hours.** The laser systems also have high output powers, which enables high speeds and the processing of thick materials.

Sealed CO2 lasers require no replacement gases. The laser head has a long life of 20,000 hours, and it emits high-frequency pulses (up to 100 kHz) with up to 1.5 kW of peak power. The combination of high frequency and high peak power results in faster material processing, minimal thermal degradation and a smaller heat-affected zone.

For more information about the use of lasers in ceramic processing, contact Laser Photonics, LLC at 41 Skyline Dr., Ste. 1009, Lake Mary, FL 32746; (407) 829-2613; fax (407) 804-1002; e-mail info@laserphotonics.com; or visit www.laserphotonics.com.

**With a Laser Photonics SBM 1200M sealed CO2 laser.

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