Does your business require metal marking technology to impart barcodes, dates, identification numbers, logos, and other important data onto metal product surfaces?
There are several options out there, but the 4 listed below are all that need to be considered in the majority of industries.
Stamping is the most antiquated of all metal marking technologies, but still the most cost effective solution for simple projects. Though several designs exist, a metal stamp works similar to an ink stamp used for marking dates, company names, and other information on company paperwork. A stamp can be fixed with a set mark that never changes, or adjustable such as found in an automatic numbering head, interchangeable block stamp, or premade roll marking stamp.
Stamps can be manual, where a hammer is used to stamp the mark into the metal. They can also be automated such as with a pneumatic stamper or roll marking technology. Quality and longevity is the big concern with stamping, as it isn’t ideal for high-strength steel, doesn’t make the deepest or best quality marks, and stamps need to be replaced more often due to stress and strain placed on them.
2. Electro Etching
Electro Etching is used in the stainless steel industry, due to its cost-effectiveness over maintaining stamping and dot peen setups for stainless, and the high price of laser marking machines. Electro etching doesn’t cause corrosion and is much safer than acid etching. Electro etching can also be used for aluminum, due to its corrosion-friendliness.
Essentially, if your company works with stainless, electro etching is a great option, being fast, easy to maintain, and able to impart the most complex marks. Electro etching has lots of moving parts and requires a constant supply of etching fluids, neutralizers, etc.
3. Dot Peen Marking
Dot peen has a few different names attached to it including dot peen marking, micro percussion marking, and stylus pin marking. An electric or pneumatically-actuated metal stylus is programmed to move on X and Y axis points to create a succession of dots making up a design on a metal surface. Dot peen is useful for all applications where metal needs to be marked permanently with end-user info or company branding images such as logos.
Dot peen is able to do complex 2D data matrix codes. The advantages of dot peen are that it’s relatively inexpensive, quick, accurate, reliable, and able to penetrate films and coatings on all metal surfaces. While dot peen marking quality can compete with laser, it does require relatively flat surfaces to mark, and the stylus tips need to be changed frequently when marking multiple items.
4. Laser Marking
Laser marking is popular throughout many industries as a go-to marking technology. This technology is faster than other methods, but rather expensive and impractical for smaller companies. It’s expensive to purchase initially, yet costs much less to maintain once it’s up and running.
Here are the most common types of laser marking systems:
- CO2 Laser: CO2 lasers operate on a wavelength of 10.2 microns. They’re typically considered an upgrade from inkjet and dot peen applications. CO2 lasers are best for simple barcodes and date codes.
- Fiber Laser: Fiber lasers add a layer of 2D depth to markings. They’re best suited for metal, plastic, and stone. Use a fiber laser for when you want more intricate designs marked on your products such as logos, 2D data matrix, and high quality bar and date codes.
- Diode Pumped Laser: This is the Rolls Royce of all laser marking technologies. Diode is three times more powerful than fiber. This technology is obviously best suited for metals that are hard to mark cleanly with detailed contrast, such as anodized aluminum. Diode offers the cleanest mark with minimal surface disruption.
Upfront price is the biggest drawback to laser marking. Though laser can also weaken critical structural parts, by creating sharp edges and weak spots in products that require strength and durability such as frames and body panels in the automotive industry. Not to mention, many manufacturers across multiple industries may not need the increased speed they offer.
Which to choose?
If your company only requires a few rather simple text or number-based stamps every day, stamping — either manual or automated — are likely the best option. For more complex needs, you and your managers will have to determine which of the other 3 methods listed works best for your application, including desired turnaround time on projects, and budgetary limitations.