Intelligent Materials Database
Enriched Materials Processing
Laser processing of materials can be a nuanced and highly technical endeavor. Proper selection of processing parameters for laser cutting, engraving, and marking a material can vary based on several factors including:
Without software assistance, users resort to iterative testing and experience to achieve adequate results on each process. This is a highly unreliable and time-consuming process that can be temperamental and does not always transfer from system to system or between laser sources of different power ranges. This complexity stands as a frustrating barrier to the unlimited potential benefits offered by laser systems.
The Intelligent Materials Database is one of many features offered by ULS to improve the simplicity of laser material processing. It reduces complexity to a simple three step process: 1) select a compatible material from a list, 2) choose the type of processes to be performed (cutting, marking, or engraving), and 3) enter the material thickness. From this information, the Intelligent Materials Database is able to automatically generate the material’s optimal processing parameters, allowing the user to focus on being productive and to not be burdened with the need for experimentation.
The Intelligent Materials Database accomplishes this remarkable reduction in complexity by compensating for several factors:the type and thickness of the material to be processed, the current laser system configuration, and the desired process type to compensate for a variety of phenomenon. The following section describes in more detail the types of considerations that the Intelligent Materials Database handles.
The Intelligent Materials Database contains laser material processing parameters for hundreds of materials ranging from the commonly used (cherry wood, acrylic, glass) to the application-specific (3M™ Double Coated Tape 4411-4412, Marnot™ XL hard coated Lexan™ PC, Hastelloy™). In each case, the database determines which materials can be marked, cut, or engraved with the current laser system configuration. For example, a laser system configured with a fiber laser is capable of marking PET plastic but is unable to cut or engrave. A laser system with a CO2 laser can mark and engrave, but may not be able to cut through thicker PET sheets if the laser has a lower power rating. The Intelligent Materials Database knows these peculiarities and is able to guide the user as to what can and cannot be processed.
Moreover, the database will take into account the current laser system configuration and ensure that processing results are consistent across the broad range of compatible materials.
In laser cutting and laser engraving applications, the Intelligent Materials Database automatically adjusts the speed of cut to achieve the desired results. In laser cutting, this means that the material will be completely separated. In laser engraving, this means that the depth will be held consistent. In both cases, results are achieved at the highest possible throughput.
Materials respond differently to laser sources of different power levels. Cutting ½” (12.7mm) acrylic with 150 watts of laser power is about twice as fast as cutting with 75 watts. Some materials such as thin films exhibit better processing behavior at lower power levels. Wood darkens when marked with lower-power lasers, but stays the same color at higher-power levels. In all cases, the laser material processing parameters must be adjusted to compensate for the power level of the laser source.
ULS offers a variety of laser sources with power ranging from 10 watts to 500 watts. Some laser cutting, engraving, and marking machines can be equipped with multiple lasers. In many laser systems, the laser power can be mixed and matched. A PLS6.150D for instance, can use both a 75 watt laser and a 10 watt laser at the same time. To increase flexibility, the lasers on any laser system can be reconfigured in less than 30 seconds using Rapid Reconfiguration™, a unique and powerful feature offered only by ULS.
Selecting the correct laser material processing parameters in regard to laser power can be complex. This is another area in which the Intelligent Materials Database adds tremendous value. It automatically adjusts the processing parameters to account for any laser configuration. The database provides the best suggested settings for a wide range of requirements. For example, the database provides solutions for requirements as diverse as using a single 25 watt laser to cut ¼” (6.35 mm) ABS as well as using dual lasers with 40 and 50 watts to mark granite. This amazing feature extends across the entire ULS product line and dovetails with other ULS technologies such as Dual Laser Configuration™, Multi-Wavelength™ and MultiWave Hybrid™ technologies, etc. to give users simple access to an incredible range of processing capabilities without any of the associated complexity.
ULS offers lasers of three different wavelengths: 10.6µm CO2, 9.3µm CO2, and 1.06µm Fiber. Each wavelength interacts differently with each material. A 10.6µm CO2 laser may have no effect on Aluminum whereas the 1.06µm Fiber laser can produce high contrast marks. Polycarbonate produces frosted marks with the 10.6µm CO2 and 9.3µm CO2 sources, but a dark black mark with the 1.06µm Fiber. The Intelligent Materials Database uses the type of laser or lasers which are attached to the laser system and can adjust the laser material processing parameters accordingly.
Some materials are capable of being processed in more than one way with a single laser source. One prominent example is rubber used for making stamps. It can either be directly marked or cut to create a true representation of the design file or processed in “Rubber Stamp Mode” to make a high-quality functional rubber stamp. This process involves adding “Shoulders” to the markings to enhance the strength of the marking ridges. The Intelligent Materials Database contains the correct settings for each type of process, affording the user the flexibility to produce either of the above-mentioned effects on the same material.
For several materials, there are considerations which do not fall cleanly into any particular category and are simply displayed to the user as “processing notes”. These notes vary based upon material. For instance, cutting through thick wood can cause soot and flames to contaminate the lens. Therefore, the notes suggest using the coaxial air attachment on the air assist assembly to protect the optics and increase the longevity of the laser system. Users can also add their own processing notes to each material, providing a convenient place to store information relevant to specific materials.
Without software assistance from the Intelligent Materials Database, users resort to “trial and error” methods of determining processing parameters, which can be a lengthy and mistake-prone process that may not yield acceptable results. The iterative nature of this method also generates substantial amounts of scrap material that can become quite costly. Consider a scenario in which a customer wanted a single process performed on material they supplied. In this case, an operator would potentially have to test several sets of parameters to arrive at an adequate quality level. At best, this could delay delivery; at worst, this could ruin the customer’s material. However, using the Intelligent Materials Database, the operator could significantly reduce the number of iterations involved in this process.
The Intelligent Materials Database also acts as a repository for custom materials. Users are able to enter specific parameters for any material they wish and then recall them instantly at any time in the future. This is a massive benefit to customers who use materials that are similar to, but not exactly the same as materials which are presently in the database. Furthermore users can duplicate existing materials and make modifications to parameters, then save as a new/custom material, which can help the iterative process and solidify procedures.
Processing material with a laser system can have its associated dangers. If incorrect parameters are selected, the material could ignite, thereby posing a threat to the laser system, the facility, and any nearby personnel. The Intelligent Materials Database substantially mitigates these safety issues by selecting parameters that have been rigorously tested in actual laser systems by laser material processing experts. Several materials, for example, have a maximum cut depth. At times this cut depth is a processing limitation, but other times the material may pose a safety issue if the user were to attempt to cut thicker than this limit. Other materials have set cutting or marking speeds, which may be due to safety concerns. In general, the Intelligent Materials Database uses the optimal laser material processing settings in all scenarios while maintaining processing safety.
ULS is committed to continuous maintenance of the Intelligent Materials Database. With each new software update, users are kept up-to-date with the newest materials in laser processing. This process will continue to protect the investment of the customer.