Which part fits where? How do you take good care of your machine? How do you get the best out of the machine? What materials can you use when working with the machine? And how do you keep the machine working optimally for as long as possible?
Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore, because, in this article, we will lay down the basics for working with and maintaining fiber laser marking machines.
In case you have just newly acquired a fiber laser marking machine either for home or personal use, you may be wondering how to install, use or even live harmoniously with your new pricey piece of equipment.
What is a Fiber Laser Marking Machine?
We for those of us who haven’t read our earlier post on this technology, a simple definition of a fiber laser marker is a machine that uses fiber laser technology to mark surfaces for various use cases, using various techniques.
Marking can be done to label machine parts, create intricate works of art, create signs, and many other types of uses. Your machine essentially has three main parts, including the pump, the resonator, and the beam delivery system.
The pump comprises laser diodes from which a light beam is emitted and transmitted through fiber optics to a resonator which contains what is known as the gain medium. The resonator hosts the gain medium, which is simple fiber optics doped with rare earth elements.
The main differences between different fiber laser applications are based on the wavelengths produced. Metal markers are mainly Ytterbium-doped, giving them the wavelength that is needed for optimal absorptivity for material marking various metals and plastics.
The resonator combines the gain medium with a set of full and semi-reflecting Bragg grating components, that allow for refraction, amplification, and filtering of the right wavelength required for marking. The filtered beam is then transmitted to the beam delivery system, which is simply a beam expander and a lens contained in a beam head. This is the ‘laser pen’ that does the marking.
Taking care of the machine
Let’s talk maintenance. The main cause of machine failure in any industry is a lack of good maintenance. Most people do not take time to understand what a machine needs to continue operating for long without the need for replacement or major repairs.
Fiber lasers set you back quite a substantial amount of dollars when you buy, and it is in your best interest to learn a few tricks about keeping the equipment in top condition. Luckily, the machines are very low maintenance, with just a few tips to keep them serving you for longer.
Protect the optical parts
The main area to pay attention to when working with your machine is the optical assembly. The focusing lens of a laser beam head is the most vulnerable and costly part of your machine. Therefore, most designs will include a protective lens over them.
This lens is in turn fitted with a wearing non-reflective film for further protection. This does not mean that you don’t handle the protective lens with care. They are also costly and vulnerable to wear. You can build the following practice into how you handle the lens;
Protecting the Optical Lenses
The protective lens is made of ZnSe, and therefore, brittle.
Do not throw the lens when handling. Handle the lens with care when disassembling for cleaning. Make sure the lens does not come into contact with hard objects when disassembled.
The anti-reflective film is extremely sensitive to dust and other forms of contamination like oil and grease. NEVER handle the lens with your bare hands. Don’t touch or blow air to the optical part of the lens. When working with small lenses, make use of optical or vacuum tweezers.
Checking the optical lenses
Establish a practice to always check your optical lenses before and after use. The lenses can be affected by very small particulate matter. It is always advisable to use a magnifying device when checking the surface of the lens.
It may also be necessary to use a bright light to illuminate the optical surface, amplify the contaminants and identify any defects on the lenses.
Cleaning the lenses
Cleaning the protection lenses is one of the most delicate machine care practices. Ensure that you don’t use bare hands when cleaning the lens. Use optical grade solvents and long fiber absorbent cotton or lens paper when cleaning the lens.
The available wipes are cotton wipes, cotton balls, cotton swabs, and lens paper. The non-reflective film is a wearing element and can be replaced regularly. However, ensure that it is well taken care of so that you don’t wear it out fast because the frequent disassembly could be the start of wearing the protective lens.
Only allow properly trained staff to handle the machine
Although fiber laser machines are relatively easy to operate, only allow people who have some technical knowledge about the machine’s maintenance and operation.
This can only be achieved through proper training. Machine suppliers endeavor to put up blogs like this one on how to operate and take care of machines.
Your machine also comes with an operating manual. You must make sure that all operators of the machine know how the different parts of the machines, how to assemble and disassemble, clean, and store the equipment.
Most of the Chinese websites may not have the best-written blogs about the operation, mainly because their posts have been written in Chinese and translated to English using virtual engines.
Please make sure that you can relate to the language on your supplier’s website before you purchase your equipment so that you can expect good feedback when asking for specific help.
Preparing for a Marking or Engraving Job
Plan well when buying a fiber laser marking machine. Where do you want to store it? What materials will you be working on? Who will operate the machine? Let us look at some details about this.
Ideally, you should use the machine at the same place where it is kept when not in use. This is so especially for standalone machines that are not potable. The condition your machine needs to stay in is a room that is dry, clean, well-lit, and fairly free of dust.
Ensure that you commission your machine. Train the future operators about the specifics of maintenance and operation. Document all training and keep it in your training file.
An uninterrupted power supply could save you the loss of expensive working materials. If possible, and based on your risk assessment, install an automatic power backup to ensure that the machine never stops in the middle of an operation.
Personnel Behaviour, Health, and Safety
Personnel working in the room should also be careful not to introduce these contaminants when they are in the room. For example, speaking or smoking while operating the machine should be avoided.
It is important to wear an anti-laser eye protector face mask before starting the operation to avoid eye injury. Operators should also wear dust masks when the machine is working, to protect them against inhaling fumes and tiny particles from the operation.
Workers should ensure that no part of their body ever comes into contact with the laser beam. Lasers can cause severe burns. Keep a fire extinguisher ready and well maintained in the room for fire emergencies.
People with pacers should never go near the machines because fiber laser engravers may produce an electric field which could affect the normal operation of a pacer. The enclosed components of the machine must never be opened when the machine is in operation.
Set your machine up for the desired effect
Before you start your operation, you must always ensure that your equipment is all set and that all parameters are spot-on;
When you boot the machine, listen carefully. If there are no abnormal sounds, the machine is OK. If you hear abnormal sounds, stop the machine immediately and ask for help from your supplier.
Input the design you need to apply and pre-set the parameters
Most Laser machines will support USB input for the design you intend to use for marking. Your laser could be using either vector files or bitmap files (like digital photos, .jpg files, or Photoshop images).
Most fiber laser engravers will work with Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, AutoCAD, or CorelDraw. It is important to understand the technicality behind what files and programs your machine is capable of using in order to make the best marking jobs.
Your operator should be trained in exactly how each model works so that they can run the program without the need for assistance.
Your operating manual comes with some suggested settings for marking or engraving various materials and different thicknesses and depths.
It should be possible to load these settings onto your computer. Also, you should be able to create other pre-sets based on your incoming orders. Your supplier should be able to give you guidance as you go.
There is nothing as frustrating as completing a marking operation and then finding out that you used the wrong setting or that the output power was just not enough for the intended design.
This is why we recommend a test marking step before you put your actual workpiece. Always test mark using the same material that your workpiece is made of.
After you run the test mark, check that you are achieving the best quality engrave that you intend, and then feed the workpiece.
Carry out the Marking Operation
Now you are ready to mark your parts. You should always ensure that your materials are at hand before you set up the machine. This will allow you to optimize the time when the machine is running and cut down on operating costs.
Because it is possible to know how much time each part takes, you can plan for definite outputs even with a hired operator in order to reduce wastage of time in between operations and get maximum results.
After work operations
When the parts are done, it is time to return the machine to the storage condition. Always ensure that your machine is unplugged and left with adequate time to cool off before cleaning and checking.
All tools must be returned to their respective storage areas, and any broken and replaced parts discarded appropriately to avoid re-use. No extraneous tools, equipment, or other stored stuff should be left on or leaning on the machine.
If possible, always cover the machine with the factory-made anti-dust cover when in storage. Keep the room free of vibrations, dust, excess natural light, or excess opening.
What to do when your fiber laser machine breaks down
Fiber laser markers are known to operate for a very long time without the need for any maintenance or repair. However, any machine can break down, and the fiber laser machine is no exception. It is easy to browse for Chinese companies that have good customer support services on the internet.
Whenever a machine breaks down, stop it immediately and switch off all power. Unplug the cable and seek guidance from the manufacturer.
Understand and take full advantage of warranty and after-sale services, and ensure that you ask for assistance as and when you need to.
While we cannot cover everything you need in order to assist you to co-exist for a long time with your fiber laser marking machine, we have covered some of the most important tips on how to operate, clean, and maintain your fiber laser marker.
Feel free to share in the discussion below your own experience and tips in order to assist us to enrich this post and engage with other users of this technology. This post is an objective guide, but it has been sponsored by HeatSign, one of the leading Chinese suppliers of marking equipment of all types, including fiber laser markers.