CMT Lends a Hand with Advanced Laser Marking

March 24, 2011
Developer partners with vocational training program to update its R&D effort
Tim Ryder, Columbia Marking Tools’ technical service manager and software engineer conducts a training session for Focus: Hope personnel on the new U-15 EcoMark pulsed-fiber laser diode industrial marking station.
U-15 EcoMark laser marking station with keyboard tray extended.

In Detroit, a social-outreach program called Focus: Hope works to remediate problems stemming from poverty, including administering The Center for Advanced Technologies, which was established in 1993 to help individuals earn a college degree in any engineering discipline. It integrates hands-on training with academic course work, and works along with another Focus: Hope effort, the Machinist Training Institute, which provides state-licensed training in basic and advanced precision machining and metalworking, emphasizing both manual and CNC controls.

When Bruce O’Neill, project manager at the Center for Advance Technologies, contacted Columbia Marking Tools about applying state-of-the-art laser marking technology at its Detroit workshop, he presented a number of specific challenges.
• Focus: Hope wanted a laser-based system that had the flexibility to mark a wide variety of different types of ferrous and nonferrous metals as well as a variety of plastic materials.
• The laser marking machine had to have the flexibility to apply high-quality alphanumeric characters, bar codes, 2D UID matrix codes as well as logos and graphics.
• The software needed to have the capability to download various CAD type files either by flash drive or through a Wi-Fi capability.
• The laser marker needed to be portable so the operator could move the laser marker to a machining cell on-the-floor where a specific part was being manufactured.

O’Neill, explained: “Currently most of what we are doing here at the Center for Advance Technologies is R&D work on special projects for the Department of Defense, Army and Navy, related to refurbishing and remanufacturing older components to make them usable and in some cases better-than-new... The identification marks that we place on the parts vary widely. Some times not much information is required, other times there’s a lot. Part production can vary from 1 to 25 parts per job.”

“Columbia has had an on-going customer-supplier relationship with Focus: Hope for a number of years,” recalled Brad Byrne, the Columbia Marking Tools sales engineer, “primarily doing contract part marking work for them when there were required marks that Focus: Hope could not perform with the dot peen-type marking equipment they have. Focus: Hope wanted more advanced marking technology, and we recommended Columbia’s EcoMark 15 watt U-15 EcoMark pulsed fiber laser diode industrial laser marking station.”

Columbia Marking Tools is a designer and manufacturer of metal and plastic marking equipment including stamps, roll-marking dies, roll-marking and impact-marking machines, fully programmable pulsed-fiber diode laser, peen/scribe marking and UID/2D Square Dot® machines, numbering heads, and special marking machines.

Tim Ryder, Columbia’s technical service manager and software engineer who conducted the training for the Focus: Hope laser-marking station, described the basic design of the marking equipment. “This U-15 EcoMark laser marking station is a 15-watt, pulsed-fiber diode marking unit. The entire system, not including the EcoMark fume extractor unit, is enclosed in a Class 1, moveable floor style enclosure that measures 24×30× 68 inches (W×D×H.) The fume extractor unit has a 9-ft. flexible extraction hose and is integrated for on-off operation with the cycle start and stop of the laser.”

Ryder further detailed that the enclosure included the industrial laser marking head; marking head assembly with Z-axis manual height adjustment through an exterior-mounted hydraulically-operated hand crank; industrial laser controller; integrated PC controller with swing-mounted 15-inch monitor, keyboard, integrated mouse and laser software; and table space for 10×14-inch parts with T-slotted fixture plate for easy fixture mounting.

Ryder continued: “The laser marking head has a 163-mm F-Theta-Ronar lens with 7.5-inch focal length for a 100×100-mm marking area. Focus: Hope is planning to develop a menu of speed, power, and focal length characteristics for the wide variety of materials on which they will place identification marks. Currently the marking station is set up for flat parts, but with an additional rotator axis option (which can be added at any time in the future) this laser marking station can also be used for placing marks on round or cylindrical parts.”

Ryder also points out that the laser-marking station software is powerful, but it is Windows-based, user-friendly, and easy to operate. “The software communicates to the controller via a USB 2.0 connection,” he said. “The user has available any Windows standard True Type Font for marking human-readable text, or the latest UID 2D barcode encryption (Mil Spec 130), 2D matrix codes, UID matrix codes, QR Codes, PDF417, Maxicode or 51 various linear code formats. The software also allows the user to mark any graphic format (including .bmp, .gif, .jpeg, .png, and .tif) as well as CAD files (including .dwg, .dfx, .plt, .cdr and Adobe Illustrator® vector .ai files). It automatically detects and adjusts the user interface according to which laser marking system it is connected. It has the ability to change on-the-fly to either inch or metric units and allows the user to save created “layouts” to any directory including network drives.”

Ryder continues, “The software is located in our own PCS 2000 touchscreen control center. The 15-inch LCD monitor has a 1,024×768-pixel resolution and a touch-screen. Within the programming software is the ability to set up the positioning of the part to be marked through a coordinate-based graphical user interface as well as through the 532-nm positioning laser to see the location on the part. The laser’s pulsed-Q frequency can be manipulated for power intensity, speed, pulses per do, distance between dots and the number of passes per marking object. Any and all of the marking programs can be stored in files that can be easily retrieved. A software manual, provided on a USB thumb drive, is often not needed because the entire HELP file is in the software and by going to our CMT web site all updates can be downloaded through the internet.”

Bruce O’Neill concludes, “We continue to have a very good experience working with Columbia Marking Tools and are extremely pleased with their operation and performance. We believe we have developed the same type of long-term customer/supplier relationship with them that we like to have with our own customers. Columbia has a great appreciation and understanding of our purpose here at Focus: Hope and has worked closely with us to provide the best equipment and training at very reasonable costs.”

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