What’s green about lasers?

July 4th, 2016

 

The recent accreditation for the quality standard ISO 14001:2008 is another step forward on the path of continuous improvement for Rofin-Baasel UK following the successful implementation of an Environmental Management System (EMS) which aims to improve efficiency and reduce waste. Less well known, perhaps, are the ways in which lasers can help save energy and improve recycling when installed as manufacturing tools – a trend Rofin-Baasel UK has been promoting since it was founded 20 years ago.

 

Reducing waste in metals machining

Advances in additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) have transformed the way some components are made.  An example is the production of precision parts made from Titanium for use in industries as diverse as medical implants or aerospace components.  Previously, components would be machined from a solid block of material and the removed material (sometimes as much as 90%) would end up as “swarf” to be recycled.  Now, using laser additive manufacturing, the finished part can benefit from innovative design, short times to market and minimum waste due to the building of components from a powder bed using laser melting. Any un-melted powder can be filtered and re-used, going straight back into the machine for producing future parts.  On completion, the final component is in “near net shape” meaning that almost no material is wasted.  ROFIN supplies a range of fibre lasers suitable for additive manufacturing – a technology that is currently growing fast in the dental, orthopaedic, motorsport and aerospace markets particularly.

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An aerospace bracket 3D printed in titanium – courtesy of Concept Laser

 

Replacing chemical processes

Avoiding the use of acids to etch fine metal sheets reduces the amount of hazardous chemicals that are deposited into the waste water system and also reduces the usage of water – both of which are beneficial to the environment.  Using a laser to perform fine cutting of stencils and precision components for the electronics and medical device industry can lead to improvements in throughput and quality at the same time as a reduction in waste.  Additionally the laser is capable of surface etching to produce fine features with precise depth and is flexible enough to be easily reconfigured via software to cope with personalisation or add serial numbers etc.  ROFIN has a full range of lasers for fine cutting and laser engraving or etching of metal sheets.

 

No need for labels with laser marking

Laser marking of plastics is used widely to add logos, serial numbers, 2D matrix or barcodes and safety information to a whole range of products.  Where the plastic is recyclable, the use of laser marking means that there is no need to affix a label (with the chance that it could fall off later) and the plastic is 100% recyclable.  Other advantages of laser marking are that it is a non-contact process, extremely rapid, easily automated and does not require the use of consumables or contaminants like ink – so it is ideal for the pharmaceutical and medical industries as well as high volume consumer electronics.

 

Efficient hardening extends product life

Laser hardening is a process which can be used to selectively harden parts of a component (e.g. cutting edges and wearing surfaces) without the need to heat the bulk of the material.  This is a greener process, minimising the use of energy.  With the latest diode lasers from ROFIN, the wall plug efficiency is over 50% meaning that power usage and water cooling are minimised saving electricity and water.

Diode laser hardening

Diode laser hardening of edges – courtesy of DILAS

Improving quality, eliminating waste and improving recycling are strategies that Rofin-Baasel sees as win-win both internally and externally as they have a direct input on reducing costs and environmental impact.

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