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CO2 (carbon dioxide) lasers are the highest-power lasers that are currently available, and are used in a wide range of marking situations, including engraving. High-performance CO2 lasers with speeds of up to 2,100 characters/second are used to address high-speed and high-volume marking applications on glass and plastic packaging substrates in the pharmaceutical, tobacco and beverage industries. They are also used to engrave a wide variety of individual products.
Light Duty CO2 lasers are also widely available and can efficiently handle simple coding applications across a wide variety of substrates. These provide small and medium-sized operations with the benefits of laser engraving at affordable cost.
Laser engraving machine involves a laser and a controller, and the surface on which the engraving will take place. The laser beam itself is the engraving tool; the controller directs the beam to trace the desired engraved patterns onto the surface. The controller determines the direction, intensity, speed of movement, and width of the laser beam aimed at the surface.
The point where the laser beam touches the surface should be its focal point. This point is typically small, perhaps less than a fraction of a millimeter (depending on the optical wavelength). Only the surface area inside this focal point is affected by the laser beam, which changes the surface of the material. It may heat up the surface to vaporize the material, or it may cause the material to fracture and chip off. Cutting through the paint of a metal part is generally how metals are laser engraved.
A laser removes material very efficiently because a high percentage of the light energy of the beam is converted into heat. When this heat vaporizes surface material, ventilation through the use of blowers or a vacuum pump is required to remove the noxious fumes and smoke produced, and to remove any surface debris so the laser can continue engraving.
Laser engraving technology is used industry on production lines, where lasers engrave numbers and letters to print dates, expiration codes, and lot numbering of products travelling along the line. This allows plastic and glass containers to be coded onto containers in motion.