- By Philipp Febel
- 22 December 2021
- FOBA laser marking + engraving (ALLTEC GmbH)
From mark alignment software to tray feed modules, laser marking solutions are designed to fit.
Today’s manufacturers increasingly demand the traceability of parts. Whether in the medical, automotive or electronic field; use plastics or metals; or producing devices, tools or molds, they benefit from the fact that each part is uniquely identifiable. Laser marking achieves this with the best quality while saving time and production costs. Additionally, there are a variety of customizations that can be used in conjunction with laser marking workstations that can make them even more effective for specific applications. Below, we explore these technologies and offer solutions for laser marking any type of part.
Take into account all the variables
Choosing the right marking system and possible automation depends on the type, quantity and material of the parts, as well as the required size of the marking field. The desired visual inspection before, during and after marking should also be considered. Then there are the actual automation processes: loading and unloading, picking and placing, stacking, sorting, packaging and cleaning. Finally comes the choice between a semi-automated or fully automated system.
Process control via camera and software features
The priority of the process will, of course, be the ability to position the laser mark exactly where it is intended on the product. With the help of an integrated camera and the corresponding software, it is not only possible to automate this function, but also to make it reproducible with constant precision. Alignment of marks through automated optical part recognition, for example, enables precise placement of marks, as well as software-controlled inspection throughout the process.
The right software can dramatically reduce the time and effort spent manually aligning parts on the laser, as well as the considerable costs of designing, manufacturing, validating, and maintaining production devices. Mosaic ™, a patented component of FOBA MarkUS marking software, uses the laser’s internal camera to capture several small images of one or more parts in the marking field and create a large, undistorted image. This allows fixation-free alignment of the parts, which can be placed freely anywhere in the marking field.
This is particularly useful in the manufacture of medical devices, where there is significant variation in the types, materials and shapes of the products. The large number of SKUs combined with the small lot sizes also results in a wide variety of marking requirements. With different degrees and modes of automation possible The technical integration of a laser marking system and an automation system, or even a robot, also requires fluid interfaces. Notably, FOBA’s integrated camera solution does not require any additional validation with separate camera software for marking medical device parts. All elements of the marking process, including the camera and lighting, are controlled by one software. Given the loading and unloading requirements, we will then explore several options with varying degrees of autonomy to accomplish this onerous task.
Semi-automatic loading with robotics
It may be useful to look first at the example of complementary solutions specializing in direct laser marking of parts using the industrial robot “Horst” from fruitcore robotics. This case study shows what a robot-assisted semi-automatic laser marking solution can look like: The marking software instructs the robot to remove a tray containing one type of medical instrument or implant at a time from a cart . Horst then places it in the spacious protective cabin of a FOBA M3000-P laser marking station. (Figure 1). The integrated camera enables automated inspection of parts and ensures precise alignment before marking them with permanent Unique Identification Codes (UDI).
According to product manager Markus Vetter, “The marking software can identify the contour (or contour perimeter), size or incorrect assignments and, if necessary, distinguish individual parts to be excluded from marking. After laser marking, the station access door opens, the robot removes the tray and reassigns it to the original insertion location in the service cart.
Fully automated loading with docking modules
For a fully automated and particularly flexible marking solution, a docking module can be connected to a FOBA M-Series, M2000 or M3000 marking station, depending on the lot size. WeStore modules from Swiss automation specialist Wenger are also available in two sizes and offer seamless integration (Figure 2), because the anchored cell is adapted in format and appearance to the marking station. It can be loaded up to 20 pallets, which are pulled individually into the marking unit via linear kinematics.
“The advantages of these feed systems are their relatively small footprint and ease of use due to the elimination of additional programming work for an external robot gripper arm. Instead, a tablet feed is fully integrated into the loading unit, ”explains Vetter. Alternatively, the modular WeStore system also allows manual processing of small batches via the entrance door of the marking station.
Autonomous battery charging
The most common solutions are special machines developed in-house for the automated loading of stack trays. One application where this is useful is so-called “day / night marking”, which involves laser painting plastic to create a word or symbol that glows in both light and light. darkness – instrument panels of vehicles and airplanes and controls or displays of household appliances. are typical examples. For this, FOBA has developed a solution thanks to which autonomous gripping and loading systems continuously supply the trays from a stack to the marking station, allowing hours of production of large batches without an operator.
Marking systems can also be configured on a case-by-case basis. For applications involving small batch sizes or particularly delicate or difficult to mark parts, such as a cylinder bone screw, a robot would be a poor substitute for a human. Nevertheless, the branding process can be streamlined with additional personalization.
This is exactly what US-based Centex Machining did with a rotary unit (pictured above) and an M3000, a combination that dramatically simplified its manufacture. The company claims to have incorporated a process that previously required 12 individual steps and 18 hours of tagging; it only takes three hours: two hours for setup and one hour for tagging.
The addition of a laser marking station and its various customizations (Figure 3) can both radically modernize the operations of manufacturers and ensure they are ready to meet new challenges and opportunities in their rapidly changing industries.
Additionally, for a more in-depth look at laser marking in the medical industry, a free on-demand webinar is available with Dr. Faycal Benayad-Cherif of FOBA Laser Marking + Engraving. Dr Benayad-Cherif is an expert in laser marking automation and the developer of several patented laser marking solutions.
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