The significance of clear and precise markings is thoroughly understood by the industry. One significant aspect is that of portability. A portable marking solution that is available can use different methods to achieve the task at hand. To cater to field requirements, a variety of designs are available.
A portable marking solution is a primary requirement for products that are too large or too heavy. Moving them around the workshop might not be possible. Their size could also be beyond the scope of machines with beds. For instance, if heavy machinery or automobile parts need marking, placing them on a fixed bed machine will not be feasible. Having a custom machine designed may be an option. However, why invest in a setup that may not be able to adapt to future requirements. To this end, a portable marking solution provides an excellent method.
Products coming from the manufacturing industry need some form of marking. It can be the manufacturer’s logo, product name, part number, or any similar information. At times such markings can also be regulatory requirements. For instance, car parts need proper tagging or marking for identification purposes using a part marking machine. The news often cites incidents of call-backs from auto manufacturers due to one issue or another. It is on the basis of these data markings that they are able to identify, track, and take mitigation action.
Similarly, before shipping packaged food, manufacturing dates, batch number, and expiry dates need printing on their cartons. This is done in case any flaw is found with the products, the entire batch can be recalled or removed from stores and other retail sites. Furthermore, the manufacturing process will also need modification or maintenance to ensure such events do not recur. This can be a make or break for companies in today’s competitive environment.
Marking can be carried out on all most any solid surface. From brittle and fragile materials, such as glass, to hard metals. Paper, cardboard, and plastics, all can have markings on them for a number of reasons as mentioned above. Considering the size of the cartons or automobile components, portability of marking equipment may not be a matter of choice, but a necessity.
Marking Technologies and Selection:
Various methods are available for a portable marking solution. These are defined by the marking requirements. For detailed graphics, laser engraving machines are in use. For simple inscriptions, the dot-peen marking machine is a conventional method.
The second factor, but equally important is the material that needs marking. A laser marking machine for metals would easily burn through wood or plastic. Knowing which method applies to what material is critical. We shall discuss these in detail later on.
The third consideration is that of cost. A dot peen marking machine will cost significantly less than its laser counterpart. Operational costs need to be kept in view as well. Businesses may decide to change their strategy of marking products according to costs. They may consider printing their logo on the packaging and engrave using dot-peen or inkjet printer instead of a single laser marking solution. Business strategy and requirements influence marking method selection and the cost of marking can be a major bottleneck.
There are a few primary marking methods in use today. Laser engravers, dot-peen or pin stamping machines and inkjet devices are among the few frequently in use. Their costs can vary considering the accuracy and sophistication of the solution.
Laser Machine Technology:
A laser is the most versatile solution available for marking and engraving. For different power ratings, they can be used on both soft and hard materials. Machine manufacturers use galvo systems to accurately guide the laser on the surface that needs marking. Considering we are dealing with a form of light, it is also comparatively fast. Also, this method provides one of the best resolution results. But lasers and accurate galvo systems have a high upfront cost.
Dot-peen or pin Machine Technology:
A dot peen or pin marking machine is primarily a mechanical solution. An actuating arm moves a pin to and fro, indenting the surface. This actuating arm is then moved in a 2-d plane. As it moves, it traces the required graphics, such as letters and numbers. This is the slowest method of the three under discussion.
Another limitation is its resolution. The pin or stylus attached to the actuating arm strikes the surface making the indent on the surface. The size of the pin tip defines the resolution. To be able to successfully indent, the pin will have a minimum possible size. Too thin a pin will obviously break. On the other hand, making pins with a harder material will raise its cost. Furthermore, the pin is bound to wear out after a while of usage. Hence, there is a recurring cost of its replacement. Also, more moving parts means more components subject to wear and tear. Hence, these devices will have more maintenance intervals as compared to laser machines. But lower upfront cost and deeper detail make it a valuable tool to have.
Ink Marking Machine Technology:
Inkjet marking machines are among the fastest marking methods available. The printing method works by ejecting ink through a set of nozzles or another simpler design is that of a versatile stamp. For the former, they do so by firing at specific instances, printing the data that the user feeds it. In the latter case, it acts as a paint roller, albeit a more sophisticated version. However, with ink, one size fits all is not possible. Certain materials will not hold the ink and may need additional adhesive support. Other ink types might chemically react with the surface. Consequently, using an applicable ink-type is necessary.
Portable Marking Solution:
All of the technologies mentioned above have portable versions. Due to the high demand by manufacturers who handle large or heavy objects, much R&D has been carried out by marking solution providers. For instance, HeatSign machines proudly boast of HEF technology incorporated in their handheld devices. HEF allows for marking on some uneven surfaces. This allows for greater flexibility.
Portable Laser Solutions:
For laser devices, fiber lasers currently dominate the market in terms of accuracy and effectiveness. Current designs allow for around 100,000 hours of working life and also consume less power than before. A conventional design comprises of two primary parts. One is the controlling end. The second is the laser engraving end. The controller is where users interact with the machine to define the graphics that need marking. Manufacturers tend to develop their own software that interacts with the machine and transfer marking requirements to it.
The laser end can be configured to operate in two ways. It can mark large static parts. This means that the engraving end is held against the part. It then carries out the engraving and the machine operator then removes it from the part. The other method is dynamic marking. Due to their lightweight, portable laser markers can attach to conventional conveyor setups. As the component or product moves along the conveyor, the laser head progressively marks the surface. Hence, portability allows increased flexibility in usage. The laser on a handheld laser engraver usually found in the market are up to a 100 watts but can be greater as well. Furthermore, the marking speeds can reach up to 10,000 mm/s.
Portable Dot-peen Solutions:
For the dot-peen marking machine, an important factor is the actuating arm’s power source. For such portable etching machines, the methods in use are either electric motor or pneumatic. The pneumatic engraving machine version may not seem entirely portable. The primary hindrance is that of a pneumatic supply. An air compressor unit becomes an additional component and these are usually bulky.
Electric versions, such as HeatSign’s HS-PE02 model, are a single unit machine. As vibro etching machines, all their peripheral requirements are conveniently combined in a single box. This means, no additional air compressors or even computers for programming the marker. However, they may not be able to fulfill a deeper depth requirement as an electric motor unit’s power handling capacity inherently limit it. For deeper engravings, a pneumatic supply is a better option. But for most portable marking solution use cases, the electric version suffices.
Portable Ink Solutions:
Handheld inkjet printers come in various shapes and sizes. For roller-type ink markers, the ink sticks to a drum due to its adhesive qualities. The pattern which a user wants to deposit on a surface is easily made by adjusting grooved stereos. The drum comes in contact with the surface and transfers the pattern. Normally, the roller is spring-loaded. It returns to its zero position when lifted from the surface. The nozzle-based system, on the other hand, is a more complex setup. Once a user enters the graphics they want to print, an electronically controlled pressure system takes over. It translates the graphics fed to it into pressure pulses. These pressure pulses then cause the ink to spray from the nozzle at specific intervals. The end result is a neat graphic that one can print on a wide variety of materials.
One major method of characterization or classification of devices is on the basis of print height. The print size heights can range from a maximum height of .5 inches to 2 inches. Another factor to consider is ink cartridge types. Not all manufacturers support re-fillable cartridges and this can drive operational costs upwards. Third party solutions are available but come with strings attached. There have been instances where third party providers did not provide the requisite ink in the cartridge resulting in no effective savings. Also, some cartridge providers do not have the same formulation as OEM inks causing leaks and inferior quality output.
Pros and Cons:
-Laser Pros and Cons:
Calling laser engravers portable rather than handheld will be more apt. Their control units, despite providing portability, are extra baggage. Furthermore, they cannot provide any color variation. On the plus side, they are efficient, precise, and have limited execution steps. This implies a lesser probability of making errors. For different power ratings, they can mark a wide variety of materials. A simpler setup also means lower maintenance costs. But the hardware comes at a higher price point. For marking designs with detail and for high-speed requirements, a handheld laser marker makes for a good choice.
-Dot-peen Pros and Cons:
Dot-peen markers that operate electrically are more portable. They do not require any additional supporting equipment and most models come in a single package. Pneumatic engraving machine versions for dot-peen are also available. But their portability is comparable to that of laser engravers. The additional requirement of a pneumatic power source implies additional hardware. Furthermore, it has already been pointed out that as a primarily mechanical solution, it has frequent recurring maintenance costs. However, the upfront cost is lower. They are optimal for simpler engraving patterns, letters, and numbers. Also, for deeper engraving marks, they are a cost-effective solution.
-Ink Pros and Cons:
Inkjet marking machines are extremely versatile. With multiple color inks, one can further expand its usage when it comes to base material selection. They are also fast and cheap. With printing technology being around for such a long duration, much development has taken place in the field. This has allowed for costs to come significantly down. What they offer in speed and cost, they forego on the permanence of marking. Exposure to rough environments will tend to erode the ink away. However, given its ease of applicability to a wide variety of materials, it is a popular choice for a marking requirement. Another issue is of printer nozzle clogging. A lot of ink goes to waste to clean them. For water soluble inks, hot water cleaning methods are available. However, more sophisticated devices come with auto-cleaning features. These devices use up ink to at a slightly more pressure to clean the nozzles. This results in more wasted ink.
The following are a few examples of portable devices from various manufacturers.
- High Speed up to 9000mm/s
- Long work life 100,000 hours
- No need for consumables or maintenance
- Output laser power – 20W
- Light weight
- Computer connection needed to program
- Includes rich function computer software
- Electromagnetic Basement or bracket basement for support
- Compact structure for industrial environment
- Low consumption and operating costs
- Marking area – 140mm x 60mm （HS-PE01）/ 90mm x 30mm (HS-PE02)
- Marking speed – 30-40mm/s
- Light weight
- Weighs only 1kg
- Accepts ink cartridges for a variety of porous, semi-porous, and non-porous surfaces
- Includes a remote keypad, rechargeable batteries, and SD card
- Up to 999 messages can be saved to memory to print on the go
Portable marking solutions are available in multiple versions for a user to select from. Getting one’s hands on a practical product has never been easier. It is about understanding the marking requirements and opting for the right technology at the right price-point.