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What Is A Laser Marking Machine and Its Use In The Automotive Industry

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Posted May 20, 2019

In the automotive industry, labeling and marking of products is an integral part of the manufacturing process. With the thousands of parts that are being fabricated and handled to assemble an automobile, a reliable direct part marking machine is required to ensure proper delivery and installation of said parts. From bolts, motors, seats, to wheels, all of these parts have their own unique part numbers that define their function and location in the car being assembled.

Image credit: Keith Hayes/U.S. DoD (Public Domain via marines.mil)

Image credit: Keith Hayes/U.S. DoD (Public Domain via marines.mil)

Laser-marked codes and their applications

What are these laser-marked codes, and how are these applied? Automated manufacturing and distribution systems rely on barcodes to define which parts go to certain stations of the assembly line. An increasingly common method for tagging car parts is by making use of laser marking machines. Laser marking machines are labeling machines that use laser beams to modify the surface of the parts being manufactured.

Not to be confused with laser etching and laser engraving processes, laser marking is an almost non-intrusive way of marking car parts. As opposed to laser etching and engraving that ‘dig’ and remove material from the surface, laser marking just modifies the surface which results in the discoloration of the part’s surface. This discoloration is the barcode and/or text that we can see on the car parts being installed.

Laser marking machines work by using lasers to heat up the surface. These lasers, in turn, oxidize the material and turn it into a color that contrasts with the original surface material. Laser marking machines can be used mostly on steel and titanium materials, but can also be utilized to mark other materials such as glass and some polymers.

Applications in the automotive industry

Laser marking machines have several essential uses in the automotive industry. These are the following:

1. Part numbering for engine components

Image credit: stux via Pixabay (Pixabay licence)

Image credit: stux via Pixabay (Pixabay licence)

Engine components for cars are made from sophisticated alloys of steel which can withstand high temperatures and pressures. QR codes are now being used to label these parts, which can withstand the harsh environments that these parts have to endure. Aside from its utility during car assembly, laser markings on these parts can also be useful during the car’s maintenance and repair. After years of use, mechanics can retrieve crankshafts and engine blocks, as well as see the original codes and numbers that were printed during production.

Bolts, bearings, and even nameplates in the engine bay are also being laser marked with part numbers and barcodes. Paper stickers usually don’t survive the harsh conditions inside the engine bay, with the heat and lubricants quickly dissolving the conventional paper labels. Since the laser marked labels are directly on the part’s surface, adverse conditions will never dissolve and remove these labels like they can dissolve ink and paper stickers.

2. Circuit boards

Electronic components usually make use of printed circuit boards, which are mass-produced prior to assembly. These printed circuit boards are assembled automatically on silicon boards. The layouts are traced by laser marking machines. Afterwards, the electronic components are then soldered onto the circuit boards. This will ensure repeatability and consistency in production.

3. Fuse boxes

Fuse boxes both on the engine bay and inside the cabin usually have diagrams and layouts printed onto the cover, in order to guide the car’s owners and mechanics on which relays or fuses operate corresponding electrical functions in the car. Using conventional ink on paper stickers will not last years of use, and will be removed in a few years. Modern manufacturing facilities use laser marking machines to print the guides on the fuse box covers, which will probably outlast the car’s operating lifespan.

4. Instrument panel buttons

If you look at the symbols printed onto the instrument cluster of your car, you’ll notice that these symbols are printed directly onto the buttons and levers. These labels may also be applied with laser marking machines. Since they’re not using ink or paint, these labels can survive years of operation without fading.

5. Body frames and panels

Just like engine part numbers, body frames and panels also require the usual part numbering systems being used for assembly. Parts manufacturers now use laser marking machines to print the required identifying numbers onto the metal parts. Doing so will aid distribution and installation in the assembly line. These laser marks don’t damage the metal surface and can be covered up by the metal finishing techniques and painting processes after assembly.

Conclusion

In the early days of automotive manufacturing, automotive companies used handwritten stickers to label essential parts of vehicles. Since then, labels have progressed from handwritten stickers to sophisticated barcodes that are directly laser marked onto the car parts being processed. If you’re considering purchasing a laser marking machine for your manufacturing plant, choose a machine that can match your production line perfectly.

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