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  1. #1
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    Default Laser Engraving Machine

    I have a couple product lines that have some laser engraving on Type II anodize. I currently farm that portion out. I am considering bringing that in house to save lead time (currently takes a week to ten days). I made the mistake of looking at laser engraving machines on eBay. There are literally thousands of units that claim to be able to do what I ask. Unfortunately, they are all from China and all cheap enough to make me doubt their quality.

    Do any of you have any experience with a machine that is reasonably reliable, and robust enough to do a couple thousand parts per year? After a bunch of conflicting research, I'm not even sure what type of laser, and how many watts I need. All of the parts are small, so size isn't an issue.

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    I know a couple of hustlers on Instagram have been running these machines from Boss Laser (FM-2 Laser Marker by Boss Laser). Boss looks like one of those companies who sources the stuff from China, but does QC/support/warranty in the US, which is a good way to save money without getting Alibabaed.

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    Engraving on type 2 anodize is easy and a couple thousand units a year is nothing, even for cheap chinese stuff. A couple thousand a shift might be different.

    The big question is are you buying a scanning system (a laser cutter) or a galvo system. The scanning systems are really slow for engraving but they're flexible. I couldn't live without mine anymore. The inexpensive ones use glass sealed co2 tubes that need replacement every few thousand hours of run time, but for occasional use that's not going to be an issue. The tubes are pretty cheap.

    Galvo systems are really fast and there's not really anything to break, but the area is limited and you can't cut with them. typically they have a fiber source, and that's more expensive than a glass tube co2, but has better longevity.

    You can get a chinese one direct and deal with the delay, shipping, customs and setup, or you can pay about twice as much through an US importer and have them ship it from stock and set it up. Your choice. I did the latter and got good service from http://www.rabbitlaserusa.com/

    Pretty much any machine will engrave anodize. 40 watts would be plenty.

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    I use a 50 watt ULS laser for my anodized parts. With the right fixturing thousands of parts a day should be no issue. You can load up the whole table and just duplicate the engraving however many rows and columns of parts you can load in the table.

    The Chinese lasers are pretty much "kits", you will have to do alignments and maintenance to keep them running and the glass tube lasers don't engrave small text or graphics very well. The RF laser sources used in the ULS, Epilog, Trotec and a few others are going to give you the best resolution and last a whole lot longer. Of course there is a price trade off, Chinese lasers from reputable suppliers like Comatose suggested, are probably going to run you $5k or so, a "Western" laser will be upwards of $15-$20k.

    My turnaround time is usually a day or two... but shipping from MN to AZ and back wouldn't work. There should be several folks using lasers in your area, maybe a more responsive outfit would be better than expending the capital for a machine.

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    Northern mountains doesn’t quite tell me your location but there is an outfit that carries and supports their lasers here in northern California. The least expensive non-hobby lasers are like this 20W one which is a fiber optic laser.

    2W Fiber Optics Laser Metal Engraving Machine Station

    C02 lasers are cheaper however, but require more maintenance and upkeep. Plus laser tubes do not last as long. The lower wattage C02 machines will not engrave in aluminum or ferrous metals until you’re up in to the 130 watts and above range.

    They WILL engrave anodized aluminum but basically they are removing the anodization and dye. I use one (40watt) for engraving on a product of mine and it works fine. Mine IS/WAS one of the Chinese cheapo's but I spent a bunch of time ( and some money)tearing it apart and rebuilding it so it's not quite a 'toy' anymore. Nor do I use use the controller or SW that came with it as it was junk too. Worked after a fashion but still hobby stuff. So buying one of these cheapo's is a bit of a crap shoot but you can do it.

    In a business it might not be logical, better to buy something like I linked above. Where you would be up and running in a day and not fiddling around for days on end trying to get a cheap one working.

    All being said...if you cannot spend the money for one like I suggested...then your only options are the C02 type lasers. Below is a pic of work done on the C02 laser. If you are thinking of that route then this is not the forum you want to go forward in. It could get closed.

    You are welcome to PM me for more info on this topic. BTW I'm just a user and I do not sell these things...I just learned a bunch about them.

    Like Brian I could turn around parts in a day or so too but California may be even farther away than his place!
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails p11a.jpg  

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    I run an epilog mini 30. 18Wx12Dx4" envelope. I engrave type 2 with it and absolutely love it.

    Negotiate a 2 year parts warranty and run the hell out of it.

    Epilog customer support has been amazing to me.

    FWIW...

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    Quote Originally Posted by G00 Proto View Post
    Do any of you have any experience with a machine that is reasonably reliable, and robust enough to do a couple thousand parts per year? After a bunch of conflicting research, I'm not even sure what type of laser, and how many watts I need. All of the parts are small, so size isn't an issue.
    About 2 years ago, I bought one of these "cheap" galvo-based Chinese lasers that you describe. I went with a 20w fiber laser unit. Price back then was just under $9000. BUT, I purchased from a US distributor in California. So I had a lot more confidence that I would have a local resource in the event I needed service. But the thing has been 100% reliable... No issues (knock wood) so far. I think the usable marking area is somewhere around 4" square (maybe 100mm square?). Easily marks Type II / Type III anodized aluminum, Titanium (G2 and G5), Stainless Steel and most other steels without any difficulty at all. You'll need to experiment with power / speed / frequency settings to get the desired results - sometimes this is NOT a trivial amount of effort when you're faced with a new material.

    Note - the one I purchased is a "naked" system - there is no enclosure. So you're potentially exposed to harmful laser emissions (Class IV) and need to take precautions. I purchased a couple pairs of laser-safe glasses and a soldering station fume hood. Other than that, I just make sure my fingers are not in the way before pressing start...

    Link to LitLaser website


    Note: 20 watt doesn't sound like a lot of power, but 20 watts coming out of a fiber laser is completely different than 20 watts coming out of a CO2 laser due to the different wavelengths. And the Galvo-head makes engraving extremely fast - much faster than a XY-gantry based machine. I can directly mark steel and stainless (don't need to use marking fluid) - you can't do that with even 120 watts on a CO2 laser... But obvious limitations due to small usable area...

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    Thanks guys, lots of good info. Sounds like a galvo 20-40 watt fiber system would be the way to go. I'll do some more research along those lines. For my business, many times it is all about turn around time. In that regard, I can justify a machine that is not going to run very much, compared to farming stuff out (that and the fact that I like new toys).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mooner View Post
    Easily marks Type II / Type III anodized aluminum, Titanium (G2 and G5), Stainless Steel and most other steels without any difficulty at all. You'll need to experiment with power / speed / frequency settings to get the desired results - sometimes this is NOT a trivial amount of effort when you're faced with a new material..
    Can you get these things to pre-engrave raw 6061 before anodize? Or do you need a lot more power to actually remove material?

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    You'd need a LOT more power.

    Where metal is concerned, these are markers, not engravers. They won't ablate away metal, just discolor it.

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    I have a 40 watt Epilog and it does a great job marking anodize (part numbers, labels, etc.,) and we have also cut gaskets, made fixtures for our silk screener for some parts that we do. You can turn the power down on the Epilogs and do multiple passes that just seems to bleach the black to an almost white and not blow the anodize off. The Epilogs are more expensive, but we finally lost our tube after 12 years, so reliability is pretty good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by scadvice View Post
    Northern mountains doesn’t quite tell me your location but there is an outfit that carries and supports their lasers here in northern California. The least expensive non-hobby lasers are like this 20W one which is a fiber optic laser.

    2W Fiber Optics Laser Metal Engraving Machine Station
    Is that the one you have? Looks nice, especially for the price. I saw your reference to a 40W CO2 laser, but there was also a past tense in there, so I'm not sure.

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    I've used a cheapo flying optics CO2 system. I think it was about $500. I wouldn't recommend it. Terrible quality on anodized aluminum, but it did okay on cutting thin plywood

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    I was looking into buying a laser for my shop but the ones that make sense for me $$ wise are the cheap ones from China and I just don't need that kind of aggravation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Comatose View Post
    Engraving on type 2 anodize is easy and a couple thousand units a year is nothing, even for cheap chinese stuff. A couple thousand a shift might be different.

    The big question is are you buying a scanning system (a laser cutter) or a galvo system. The scanning systems are really slow for engraving but they're flexible. I couldn't live without mine anymore. The inexpensive ones use glass sealed co2 tubes that need replacement every few thousand hours of run time, but for occasional use that's not going to be an issue. The tubes are pretty cheap.

    Galvo systems are really fast and there's not really anything to break, but the area is limited and you can't cut with them. typically they have a fiber source, and that's more expensive than a glass tube co2, but has better longevity.

    You can get a chinese one direct and deal with the delay, shipping, customs and setup, or you can pay about twice as much through an US importer and have them ship it from stock and set it up. Your choice. I did the latter and got good service from http://www.rabbitlaserusa.com/

    Pretty much any machine will engrave anodize. 40 watts would be plenty.
    My Father runs a Rabbit laser, and has for the past 1.5 years. (You can imagine all the neat little items he has made or engraved for me.

    The Rabbit WILL easily do "colored" metal, but NOT bare metal surfaces. If you want to etch/engrave bare metal, you HAVE to spray a special (and pricey $$) film on the surface to get it to not reflect.

    My issues with the Rabbit (and most of the commodity lasers, Boss, etc....) is that you cannot see /read / or program directly with G code.
    The machine runs on G code, but (AFAIK) there is no way to direct program without Mach III or some other dribble.

    I want to program from my PC, or my CAM system.... I also want the ability to modify my own code....
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    You might want to consider a FIBER laser. It will etch / engrave anything it has the Watts to cut into. (I have no familiarity with the programming side, or ability to see/use the G-code on an Epilog)

    I was thinking an epilog, but without the need, it is only a luxury toy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by doug925 View Post
    The Rabbit WILL easily do "colored" metal, but NOT bare metal surfaces. If you want to etch/engrave bare metal, you HAVE to spray a special (and pricey $$) film on the surface to get it to not reflect.

    ...

    You might want to consider a FIBER laser. It will etch / engrave anything it has the Watts to cut into. (I have no familiarity with the programming side, or ability to see/use the G-code on an Epilog)
    The other issue with using the spray for marking is that the mark isn't really permanent.

    With a fiber laser, you can do non-engraving marking. Most of the companies call it either annealing or carbon development (which is more accurate). It lets you get a dark, clear mark, but the surface is still smooth.

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    EDM Tech Center in Minnesota sells the LaserEVO brand fiber laser.

    contact - [email protected] for more information.

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    The world of laser marking/engraving is vast and you see different types here.
    Many are happy with every style, many are disappointed with every type.
    Heck just buy a picosecond or femtosecond laser which marks and cuts cold and can do all sorts of fancy things.
    They are sort of pricey right now.

    CO2s are the oldest and cheapest and on many materials a laser printer. The added marker has to be swiped on and cleaned off afterwards which is a major pain.
    Fibers are the current go-to and the mass market now replacing YAGs but come in some flavors.
    Joking about a cold ablation unit but perhaps these will become the norm down the road.

    A good supplier should provide recommendations and samples on your parts to evaluate while not expecting you to become a wizard in this confusing field.
    People think lasers are like you see in the movies.... they are not.
    Bob

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    Quote Originally Posted by gkoenig View Post
    Can you get these things to pre-engrave raw 6061 before anodize? Or do you need a lot more power to actually remove material?
    Just using the same settings for marking on black anodizing, our 20W fiber laser will engrave (by material removal) bare aluminum, and it is very legible after anodizing, although I imagine the depth was less than .001". I'm sure that tweaking parameters or adding passes can get a lot more depth.

    Our supplier (Controllaser) had a sample of a 3D machined part that was done with a 20W fiber laser. From what I recall, they were removing about .001 per pass. Wished I took a picture...pretty impressive and the cycle time was shorter than what I expected. (feed rate was pretty high)

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    We got our first laser in 2011...it was a Chinese CO2. Marked tens of thousands of parts. We just threw it away middle of last year, simply because replacement parts were no longer available. (had a problem with one of the axis drives, no replacement available...laser power was still fine)

    We had such good luck with it that we bought another Chinese one in 2016, but we sent it back. The software (although very "pretty") wasn't able to correlate a physical part with the laser mark, so you essentially had to scrap a few setup parts to "guess" your way to proper mark alignment, which isn't acceptable. (I presume they were catering to guys who were using it to cut plastic, wood, foam, etc. out of a raw sheet rather than people who needed to accurately place a mark on a part) So, I'd say the software could easily make or break a machine with limited (or no) support.

    We ended up buying a fiber laser from Controllaser in Orlando. Very powerful and fast, excellent support.


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