LASER ABLATION OFFERS A REPEATABLE, HIGH-VOLUME, PRODUCTION PROCESS YIELDING PRECISE RESULTS FOR MANUFACTURERS ACROSS INDUSTRIES.
Drilling, scoring, cutting, stripping, and shaping—material removal processes in factory automation perform a range of functions, each with their own requirements and uses. It is the part of an automation solution provider to know the advantages of different techniques and to choose the right process for every application. However, to choose the right process, the provider must have the right toolbox, as well as the experience to know how each tool should be used.
Laser ablation is one of the material removal technologies in our own range of expertise. As a material removal process, it holds several advantages over other, more traditional technologies. While there are higher start-up costs in some areas, the precision of this technique, as well as the complex cuts it makes, can ultimately prove cost-effective when they result in increased part production with fewer manufacturing flaws.
Accordingly, this process has become essential in industries that demand exceptionally high-quality standards, including aerospace, medicine, and battery technology. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages of this process to understand when and how it should be applied.
1. Narrow focal point allows for detailed material removal and micro-drilling.
Laser ablation offers manufacturers a lot of control over the shape of the laser beam as well as the power behind it. This means the beam can be made into an asymmetrical shape, used at any angle, and powered up or powered down as needed. By keeping a tight control over these parameters, manufacturers can achieve very fine details in their material removal process.
The tech industry is an excellent example of this practice in use. High tech components require detailed cutting and engraving processes to manufacture components. This includes the need to drill tiny holes that will allow these pieces to be screwed or wired together without warping the material or subjecting it to undue stress. In applications such as this, laser ablation is the only suitable option.
We utilize laser ablation over traditional cleaning processes when the area to be cleaned must be precisely controlled. The area of cleaning can be programmed to meet unusual part geometry with intricate patterns and the laser provides the ability to get extremely close to areas of the part that cannot be cleaned. Coupling the programmability of laser ablation with machine vision allows the calibration of the system for repeatable process control down to the micron level.
Earle Cooper, Eagle Sales Engineer
2. Minimal heat transfer reduces possible damage to components.
Many material removal techniques involve clamping a component firmly in place to prevent it from shifting while force is applied—such as with a traditional drill, saw, or lathe. These processes can be relatively rough, increasing the difficulty of manufacturing delicate components without damaging or warping them in the process.
Laser ablation does not require as heavy a hand to hold materials in place. Equally important, the process itself only touches a very small area, meaning the very narrow band of heat used to make a cut or drill a hole will not spread very far. This process control keeps other areas of the component from becoming affected.
3. Material stripping without damaging an underlying layer.
Another common use case for laser ablation is the removal of an outer layer without damaging the underlying material. Laser ablation can be used in this way to strip paint or remove oxidation, strip wire coatings, or etch polymer materials without the need for chemical or mechanical processes.
This is essential in applications where the underlying material is very fine, such as a mesh or a thin and malleable alloy. For instance, traditional wire stripping techniques are too rough for very fine wire that might be used in a biomedical application. Laser ablation can selectively remove the coating polymer, which can be vaporized using a lower power level than what would be needed to burn the underlying metal. This creates a clean surface without the micro-abrasions of a sandblasting technique.
4. Elimination of surface preparation chemicals and grit blast media create greener solutions.
Speaking of sandblasting, surface preparation processes that use chemicals or grit require more materials and are less environmentally friendly when compared to laser ablation. These materials increase costs and need to be kept in stock to perform the operation. They also require extra handling and cleaning during the process.
Laser ablation is a clean process that does not require additional outside materials. This makes it ideal for businesses searching for a greener manufacturing solutions, as well as companies that want to cut down on the materials that need to be stored on-site and who want to avoid extra clean up steps in the manufacturing process.
5. Programmable process lead to high volume production.
Finally, the nature of laser ablation is to be highly repeatable. Because the cuts can be programmed into a machine, this process is less dependent on operator accuracy. Components can be loaded automatically into position, and the same series of cuts and abrasions time and again without error.
Laser ablation machines can even use sensors to ensure accurate positioning, and they can automatically adjust to accommodate slight variances in the depth or thickness of a material, resulting in a more uniform yield.
Our laser ablation technology is supported by the finest advanced testing and verification methods.
At Eagle, we not only pride ourselves on the accuracy and precision of our laser ablation technology, but in the quality of our verification methods. Businesses that rely on laser ablation as a material removal process also need to ensure the overall quality of their production methods.
We can incorporate a range of testing and validation techniques throughout the manufacturing process, so that you can rest easy knowing that each step is as carefully monitored and controlled as the laser cuts. That’s our Eagle promise.
Brandon Fuller, Eagle Technologies
Eagle Technologies, headquarters in Bridgman, MI