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Why does the aerospace industry use laser marking and engraving to identify parts?
What are the laws and regulations for marking parts in the aerospace industry?
What are the benefits of laser marking technologies for the aerospace industry?
Laser marking technology is used in industrial applications around the world, from ensuring product traceability for medical devices to creating birthday cards and artistic gifts. Since the regulations for parts-marking in the aerospace industry were first published in the 1960s, laser marking has become the solution-of-choice for industry professionals who understand the need for high-quality, precision laser markings that satisfy and exceed the legal requirements.
This article discusses the relevance and benefits of laser marking technology in the aviation and aerospace industry in the United States. We’ll explore why these manufacturers are using laser marking technology to get the job done and the main benefits of laser marking technology in the aerospace industrial setting.
Why is Laser Engraving Used for Aerospace Components?
Traceability and part identification are the two most important reasons why any type of marking system is used in the production and installation of aerospace parts. Traceability markings include a product identification number and may include a lot number and information about the manufacturer, while part identification is useful in repair and maintenance activities, and for investigative purposes in the case that parts are lost or dispersed (as in a crash).
Despite the availability of other marking technologies, such as chemical etching, laser marking remains the most popular choice for airplane manufacturers and aerospace firms that are required to mark their parts.
Here are just a few reasons why more aerospace firm chooses to mark their products with lasers:
Laser Marking is Fast and Cost Effective
Regulations and best practices for part traceability mean that manufacturers in the aerospace sector must produce markings on nearly all of the thousands of parts that make up a single aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States requires aerospace manufacturers to attach fireproof information to airplane engines, propellers, propeller blades and other parts. In addition, however, each airplane contains hundreds of feet of cable tunnels, wires, and fuel supply lines that all need to be marked. Laser marking systems are ideal for these applications, as they can create markings on up to 80 meters of cable tunnels/wiring per minute – much faster than other labeling or marking methods.
Laser Marking is Highly Versatile
Other marking protocols like inkjet or chemical etching are much narrower in their potential applications. Manufacturers can use laser etching to produce markings that are near microscopic in size or markings that are large enough to be visible from the ground as an aircraft is taking off. Laser marking can be integrated into production lines easily, especially because it does not produce any material waste products. In addition, laser marking works well with a variety of industrial materials, including stainless steel and anodized aluminum.
Laser Marking Does Not Compromise Quality
The United States regulations for parts-marking in the aviation industry were first published in 1964, the same year that the powerful, industrial Pulsed Nd:YAG laser was first created by Bell Labs. Before the widespread availability of industrial laser marking systems, when manufacturers had to mark a surface with a barcode, image or text, they had to choose between traditional engraving, screen printing, chemical etching or labeling.
Screen printing applies paint to the surface, but paint tends to wear off over time and the marking might become illegible. Chemical etching is a costly process that can damage some of the more delicate components of the aerospace industry, and traditional engraving methods are also potentially damaging to parts because they use hard/sharp surfaces to remove lots of material and leave a mark. In contrast, laser marking system heats up the metal and cause an oxidation reaction that leaves a legible mark without damaging the part itself.
What are the Benefits of Laser Marking for the Aerospace Industry?
The introduction and application of laser marking technologies have produced numerous benefits for the aerospace industry, including better markings that are durable and long-lasting, fewer damaged parts, minimizing the environmental impact associated with the marking process and compliance with federal laws.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these benefits and how laser marking applications have benefited manufacturers in the aerospace industry:
Laser Markings are Long-Lasting & Durable
Not only are laser markings long-lasting and durable, but the laser engraving machines used to create the markings are highly durable themselves. Pulsed Nd:YAG lasers operating at 1060nm have been kept in operation for 30+ years and counting in some cases, used to create traceability and product identification markings and for materials processing.
Other types of markings simply aren’t as durable as laser. Inkjet marking can nearly match laser marking for speed, but the markings are not permanent and they may fade under UV light or even rub off. Screen printing and labeling aren’t permanent either, and chemical etching, while it does create permanent markings, has too many costly inputs and is too labor-intensive to be cost-effective at scale.
Laser Markings do not Damage Parts
One of the major appeals of laser marking in the aerospace industry is generating markings that do not damage the sensitive components of the aircraft. Compared with physical engraving, it’s pretty easy to see why manufacturers prefer to use the heat from a laser machine to create a marking by oxidizing the material, rather than simply carving out chunks of the material with physical engraving.
Laser Marking is Environmentally Responsible
Laser marking is the only leading method of industrial marking that does not require process consumables and does not produce any waste products. Manufacturers that use inkjet marking will need to purchase inks and cleaning fluid while managing the additional costs and environmental impact associated with this method. Dot peen marking uses a Stylus which must be periodically replaced, and daily maintenance is required to ensure the stylus is working properly. Finally, chemical etching requires process chemicals and safety masks and is generally a much slower process than laser etching.
Laser Marking Helps Manufacturers Comply with Federal Law
The United States FAA has legislated exhaustive requirements for parts-marking in the aerospace industry. Aircraft that are registered in the United States must bear nationality and registration markings. Airplane manufacturers must include fireproof markings on the aircraft fuselage, engines, propellers and propeller blades. In addition, manufacturers of PMA or TSO parts must mark the parts with the manufacturer’s name, trademark, symbol, identification and part number. With so many marking requirements, aerospace firms depend on laser marking systems that are cost-effective to use, versatile in their applications for marking various aircraft parts and provide permanent and legible markings that last as long as the aircraft itself.
Laser Markings can Connect Aerospace Parts to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
Industry leaders are developing technology that establishes a direct link between laser markings machines and the programmable logic computers (PLCs) that are often used to control manufacturing processes. In the past, manufacturers would have to waste time uploading a new job to the marking system with each new order. Integration between laser marking systems and PLCs is helping aerospace manufacturers increase automation by integrating parts-marking seamlessly into their production process.
Laser marking and engraving is crucial to both profitability and legal compliance in the aerospace industry. Laser marking systems are the most cost-effective way for aerospace parts manufacturers to create permanent markings on their products in accordance with the United States FAA laws and regulations. Laser marking systems can also be integrated effectively in production lines for aircraft manufacturers, helping to save time and reduce costs. Unlike other marking methods, laser marking does not produce any process consumables and is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly when compared to competing methodologies like Dot Peen, Inkjet, or Chemical Etching. Laser marking technology is the perfect fit for the aerospace industry in 2018.