Laser marking for small-volume production

I am looking for a laser marking system that will be used in small-volume production for the next-generation Joulescopes. Existing Joulescopes have printed labels from the Brady i3300 as shown here.

The goal is to mark black anodized aluminum to give shiny silver/white marks. We will mark the top with a fixed image, likely before assembly. The bottom will be custom-marked per unit after assembly. The total object size is less than 150 x 150 x 40 mm with a marking area less than 100 x 100 mm.

We definitely want safety features (enclosure) that are ISO & OSHA-compliant since the laser will be used at our US-based contract manufacturer. Speed is reasonably important since we pay US hourly rates. Operators can be trained, but the marking process has to be repeatable and reliable.

I have no experience with laser marking. Based upon my research so far, it looks like a fiber laser is the right choice. There are so many vendors! Here is the All3DP Laser Marking Buyers Guide. Only the last few seem to meet the safety requirements (unless the expectation is to integrate your own enclosure). Here they are:

Here are some others that seem to have potential solutions:

I’d rather not spend $40,000 USD when $10,000 USD will do. Does anyone have experience or recommendations? What is a reasonable budget for a suitable laser marker? I appreciate any tips regarding reliable vendors that produce easy-to-use, cost-competitive equipment.

I take my parts down the road to Northeast Laser and their 200,000 sq ft facility and let the people who know what they’re doing deal with it. Cost is like $2.00 each in 100s.

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Yes, a supplier is an strong option for the enclosure top. Prestige Screen Printing is 15 minutes away. They print the JS110 cover, and they do laser marking, too.

The enclosure bottom is possible, but it’s more complicated to make work with an external supplier. The bottom has:

  • Part number, manufacturer, model, & compliance marks: constant
  • ? Serial number: unique, but could be assigned in advance. Could assign an internal tracking number which is then associated with the externally meaningful, pre-printed serial number on the enclosure. Different from the JS110 manufacturing process, but we could figure it out.
  • X Production date: ugh, not known in advance.
  • Place of manufacturer: constant for all present purposes

If I’m paying for a laser to locate at my CM, they would love to make more money from it. The CM also has some interest in owning an laser marking machine for other customers, so we may be able to work something out.

I don’t know much about it, except that the safety requirements are very strict. Penalties for an operator going blind is through the roof

I have seen commercial machines that are sold but doesn’t comply

Ah, I see. Yeah, you want that in-house. Should be a fun thing to have access to!

Yes! As @kvk mentions, it needs to be safe. Ideally, I will be able to convince my CM to purchase it, but we’ll see.

A friend of mine owns a sheet metal fabrication facility, replete with a laser cutter that occupies the area of a tennis court. He’s fond of saying “If it cut you in half, you wouldn’t even feel it”.

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Facebook ads keep telling me to back this Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2129500174/m1-the-all-metal-engraver-with-industrial-grade-quality

TBH, I don’t know much about the topic, someday I would like to have laser engraving capabilities as well.

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In the kickstarter they want 1500 USD

A maybe simelar machine at Aliexpress for 170 USD:

They also have this one for BIG objects:

I know a little about Laser Etchers and think a fiber laser is overkill. You could probably get by with a 40 Watt unit which won’t be that expensive. How big is the thing you want to engrave on? That might be a complicating factor but relatively small area (400mmx400mm) machines aren’t that costly.

Just remember, you will probably find a lot of other uses for your machine once you get it so probably should not get the smallest/cheapest one you can find. (I’d skip the K40 units, they take a lot of work to get up to snuff.)

On safety, yes, that is a big issue but the precautions and safety gear are well understood. Get a machine that was built with safety in mind. Most machines with enclosures have interlocks that prevent operation without the doors closed, for example.

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Do you really need exact date-of-production?

I worked at a company that manufactured equipment that required UL traceability. While they kept detailed in-house logs of what serial numbers were produced on what date, IIRC the equipment was only tagged with the nominal production batch month (say, October 2021) which was also correlated to the serial number block.

Yeah, I have been debating this since my earlier post. I could just put a batch number, which I think is enough for the marking requirements. I am not sure, though. My manufacturing station records everything for full traceability regardless. Then I would just need to only engrave per batch. The manufacturing process could then scan the enclosure bar code and match that with the internal tracking number.

I do like the flexibility of having the marking at the CM. It’s also a checkpoint with this JS110 production. JS110s cannot ship without a label, which is part of the final check before putting a unit in the carry case. The manufacturing station will refuse to print a label unless the unit passes all tests and calibration. With pre-engraved enclosures, I would have to trust my CM to not accidentally put a bad unit in the good pile. Tradeoffs…

Isn’t it a requirement for CE approval (or in fact any approval) that you have wk/yy code? (for traceability)

(just spend 5 minutes looking through some harmonized standards, and I could not find any info)

I am not sure what regulations exist here. Likely organizations that have a say are:

  • Individual country import/export
  • CE
  • ISO for test equipment

At one point, I decided to use YYYY MM DD for the production date. I just took a quick look at some other products and saw MM/YYYY, WW/YYYY, and just YYYY.

I figured Apple would know. My 2018 MacBook Pro and 2021 M1 have no date mark!

I think the marking requirements are in the individual standards, but yes, many require that the date of manufacture be present in a human-readable form, although it can be embedded in a serial number as for example, year and week of the year.

I think the traceability does not have to be decodable directly from the marking. I believe what is important is that the production batch can be identified and traced if an issue does occur.

In some recall notices I have seen in the past, serial number blocks were often sufficient to identify the problem lots. If there are not enough granularity in the records, you would need to cast a wider net to encompass the problem units.

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W.R.T. the difficulty of marking variable info at a vendor where presumably the issue is “how do I determine a unit’s serial number at the marking station-

You could always print a QR with all the info at the production test station, tape it to the unit, and have the marking station load info from that. ‘Course there are still plenty of reasons that might still be impractical at a given vendor.

With Joulescopes, determining the serial number is relatively easy. We just briefly plug the instrument into a USB port on the same computer that runs the laser.

That does bring up another requirement that I need to investigate. The laser should have a command-line interface or library interface that would ideally accept SVG images.

Watch out for how well big companies do region-specific changes! On some Nest Doorbells I bought here there is no FCC-ID at all, just an IC (Industry Canada) code. I was amazed they had such region-specific backing plates, I figured they’d print the packaging with some French and call it a day. Especially since US/CA has such common cross-border selling arrangements.

I know at least WEEE marking “requires” it (with a big ‘or put a black bar and screw it’ for some reason) example old source. I didn’t look into what the requirements exactly are for the code, I use the common WK/YY code that everyone else seemed to. If you’re not using human readable however you need to provide the decoding, which I’m guessing requires you to do some other administrative work that is 1000x more effort than just printing human readable codes.

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4.1.b.2 says:

EN 28601 = ISO 8601 = YYYY-MM-DD. So, I left out the dashes meh.

However, “or other coded text” pretty much also says meh.