Whether you are a car owner, a repair shop, a garage proprietor or a car manufacturer, you will invariably find yourself in need of marking parts of the vehicle(s) you are dealing with.
Marking is the technology that allows us to have good traceability of parts, while also ensuring that we can identify parts easily.
In this article, we are going to identify the best practice for marking in the automotive industry.
What you’ll learn from this article
Here, we are mainly trying to explain four main aspects of automotive component marking;
- Which parts of vehicles need to be marked, and why.
- What different machines can be used on these parts and how the marking is done.
- How to apply different Marking requirements
What is Automotive Marking?
In our various blogs about the different types of marking technologies that are available today, we have highlighted the technologies behind most marking techniques in great detail.
We have talked about laser marking, inkjet printing and dot peen marking methods and machines for various purposes.
All these technologies can be used to mark vehicles for one reason or another.
Automotive marking is an age old technique.
The automotive industry is sensitive because the quality and reliability of individual parts is important to the overall safety of vehicle uses.
Both vehicle manufacturers and part suppliers must to establish an accurate and reliable traceability and part tracking system. A single vehicle can be made of more than 20,000 parts, and maintaining traceability is currently possible using technologies that that are flexible, dynamic, and increasingly automated.
Automotive parts marking can create permanent marks such as basic alphanumeric codes, 2D codes, data matrix codes, barcodes, personalized logos and marks, part numbers, and even QR codes.
The different levels of marking
Cars and car parts are either marked as industrial and legal requirements, or as part of car identification and theft deterrence.
Mainly, automotive parts are either marked by the manufacturer, the assembly line, but the local repair or garage near where the cars are used, or by the owners.
A car engine and its accessories are made of various metals and alloys. Here, let us consider the gears, engine blocks, pistons, camshafts, cylinders, axles and crankshaft.
Because of the sensitivity of these parts, you want to achieve permanent markings that can survive the whole lifecycle of the car, and achieve that without affecting the quality of their surfaces or the tensile strength these parts require to function optimally.
Aside from the high precision and accuracy achieved by laser marking, these etching solutions are also known to be legible and permanent.
This becomes important especially for automotive parts that experience very high temperatures and frictional, breaking components or piston engine parts.
A study has shown that brake rotors can heat up to temperatures of 900 °F when emergency brakes are applied. Part identification numbers that do not degrade in these conditions is therefore necessary, and this is achieved through high power laser marking.
This is best done using fiber laser marking. With fiber lasers, you achieve high contrast, high precision marking without removing material from the marked parts.
Fuel supply system:
Fuel injection system, air cleaner, fuel pump, alternators, starters, water cases, and radiators. Are made of a wide variety of materials depending on the model of the vehicle in question.
It is advisable to use machines such as fiber lasers on high contrast surfaces e.g. black hard plastics, and dot peen marking on the metal parts.
The gear-case is the non-moving housing that holds the components of the gear box. Gear cases are made of steel alloys, and dot peen marking, especially on the outside of the casing is a great option.
Fiber laser marking is also a good alternative for the gear case.
Car chassis include body panels, doors, and car frames. They are mostly made of metal sheets and bars, and are non-moving, hence perfect for dot peen vin marking. Impact marking presses are also used for automotive marking especially on the car frames.
Deep scribing with product line integrated marking machines or vin stamping machines, can give a permanent marking on cold or hot-forming stamped chassis parts. Whether the parts are subsequently painted or galvanized, dot peen marking can be used to achieve this marking for identification text marking even when combined with a Data matrix codes.
Power and steering system:
The brake components, wheels, shock absorber, driver shaft, transmission and suspension arm are some of the more sensitive parts of a car’s internal system.
The sub-frames and axles are made of various forms of pressed steel alloys that can either be marked using low-stress dot peen marking or high contrast fiber laser marking.
Sensors and circuit boards:
Laser etching and marking is so precise and highly accurate such that it is used to make traceability marks on printed circuit boards (or PCB’s) that control electronics in a vehicle.
These marks are important because at the car manufacturing level, traceability and tracking is a sure way of keeping counterfeiting and part substitution at bay.
The car interior includes upholstery, seat belts, air-conditioning, dashboard, seat leather, roof covers, radio and car intercom buttons and floor mats. Unique marking capabilities can be achieved through the use of laser marking with different wavelengths.
UV laser markers can be used for leather and most plastics can be engraved using fiber lasers.
Special kinds of plastics can be marked using some laser applications that enable for night illumination on the dashboard, thus allowing for visibility of the speedometer and other meters during night driving.
Permanent inkjet marking can be applied on seatbelts, and CO2 marking can be applied on rubber components, e.g. door mats and window seals.
Laser marking can be used on safety-related devices such as seatbelt and airbag components, to document their quality testing and also to identify them.
The exhaust system comprises of the particulate filter, catalyst converter, muffler manifold and silencer.
Often, simply marking the muffler using fiber laser marking is enough for the exhaust system, since it is most susceptible to substitution when the vehicle is left unattended.
Vehicle tyres are best marked through a CO2 engraving process that can produce excellent engraving results for matrix codes, design logos and alphanumeric texts on the tyres.
CO2 Marking is good because it is abrasive free, thus leaving marked surfaces in their original quality and strength.
All metal traceability marking
When a car assembly line outsources parts, one of the most important steps is to ensure that the parts are correctly marked to ease part traceability and tracking.
While inkjet printers can do date marking and serial number marking on the outer containers in which parts are packaged, the parts themselves are better marked using more permanent techniques.
Fiber laser markers are the most ideal to integrate with the manufacturing line in order to do serial number stamping, etc.
The Repair and Maintenance Shop
Once a vehicle ships out and arrives into the country where it has been purchased, one of the most important practices is to complete its registration, where it is given the resident country’s number plate.
The next step is to continue with ensuring that the vehicle, or its parts, are easily recognizable for a brand, or are not easy to steal.
Customizing cars is also an art that changes like fashion in a matter of years, or across generations of car owners. Vehicle pimping can be done for public transport and also private vehicles.
One of the measures that are common is to take the vehicle to the repair and maintenance shop for branding. This is done by permanent marking. Let’s look at a few scenarios;
Windscreen, side-mirrors and window panes;
Marking car glass components is a sure way of ensuring that the car will not be vandalized by part thieves.
Whether you are branding the new car or after replacing the windscreen and all other glass panes, fiber laser marking is the sure bet on glass marking.
You can either use a handheld laser glass marker or an internal glass marking system to engrave vin numbers and other identifying marks on the glass parts without affecting the outside of the glass surface.
Bumpers are mostly made of plastic materials, normally reinforced by a steel bar. They are important because they protect crucial equipment like tail lights and headlights, the car radiator, battery and other important and delicate components.
Marking bumpers is a great way of branding cars.
Because they are the first line of impact protection, they can be marked permanently with fiber laser.
When painted, UV laser marking can be used to remove the paint on the marked part and create the desired designs. It is also possible to use special plastics that can be marked with night vision markings on bumpers for ease of identification at night or as indicators.
Door handles are mostly made of metal, including stainless steel coated steel. They are usually susceptible to theft, and therefore marking them with company logos and other identifiers is done to deter thieves.
Simply using a handheld laser marker can create customized labelling on the door handles.
When your customer approaches you with the need to pimp up their vehicles, one of the major additions they do is put pricey alloy reams on their wheels.
You may need to recommend high contrast identification Green and UV laser marking because the alloys are highly reflective, in such a way that you discourage pilferage of the reams without compromising the intended aesthetics of the car.
The Car Owner
When you get yourself a new car, and you are a DIY person, you may want to have fun marking your own car in various ways.
As a hobbyist you can purchase hand held equipment for making your marking on different parts of your car;
Whether you are marking the taillights, headlights or any other form of glass, you can achieve very good results with fiber laser marking on the glass and hard plastics that protect the lights.
Another interesting need for marking especially for vehicles that are used by many people are the car tools.
You could have spanners, screw drivers, jacks, pressure pumps, stop signs, fire extinguishers and any other form of tools that you may want to brand in order to prevent them from being substituted.
This can be done using hand-held devices that achieve permanent marking.
Laser marking technologies can be chosen based on what you are marking due to their flexibility in both marking and etching.
Most of the car interior surface area will either be covered by the vehicle’s seat covers, door interiors and the roof.
The materials that are used on these parts can range from leather, synthetic fiber and several types of fabric.
Marking technologies like UV laser can be used on leather, to create patterns, imprint logos or create any form of design on the upholstery.
Cars have very many requirements for marking. A car has an average of 20,000 different parts, most of which need to be marked as part of traceability, tracking, personalization, identification or simply to brand the vehicle.
Some technologies are better than others on different applications.
While most car parts are made of metal, there are many types of materials used and therefore different marking requirements.
Some metal parts are prone to heat and tension, and more robust marking technologies like high contrast laser marking is needed.