What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of ink jet
printing versus laser etching of UID marks?
Printing Advantages – Ink jet printing is an additive
process. In most cases the printed ink thickness is less than
0.001” thick. Since it is an additive process, unless
the ink has been cured, it can be removed in the event of operator
error without damage to the part. Inkjet marking is a natural
progression to rubber stamping or pad transfer printing. Inkjet
marking systems range from $8.5K to over $100K, depending on
system configuration. Portable inkjet printing systems are available
whereby small or medium sized parts can be brought to the marking
system for UID identification. When printing large parts, the
ink jet print head can be brought to the part for marking. Print
contrast can be achieved by printing a white or light background
followed by a black or dark mark.
Inkjet Printing Disadvantages – Ink jet printers require
consumables, inks and system fluids (also referred to as Make-Up
or solvent). In order to achieve marking permanency with the
ink selected for use a curing process (UV or thermal) may be
required. Chemical waste is generated by an ink jet process
during the head cleaning, printer maintenance or general part
cleaning process. MEK inks may be required for Mil-Std 130 UID
compliance. Not all ink jet printers are the same. Some require
more maintenance than others thus, printer selection is more
difficult. Care and process considerations must be considered
in order to avoid implementing a messy process. May require
multiple ink jet printers, generally a white and a black ink
printer, in order to obtain the necessary print contrast on
select parts. Pigmented (white or yellow ink) ink jet printers
require significantly more maintenance and are not capable of
achieving high resolution marks. Ink jet printers can clog if
not properly maintained.
Laser Etching Advantages – Laser etching or marking is
a subtractive process; material is removed to generate the mark.
Thus laser marks are permanent marks without requiring any curing
process to achieve marking permanency. High resolution print
quality is achievable. No potentially hazardous chemicals are
required. Laser marking systems range from $25K to over $100K,
depending on system configuration.
Laser Etching Disadvantages- Improper set-up can generate scrap
or require remarking in newly designated areas. Set-up times
for individual parts can vary. Provisions for operator safety
must be incorporated into the marking process. These provisions
include: incorporating Class I enclosures, installation within
controlled environments, extensive operator and maintenance
personnel training, and posting of laser warning signs. Laser
etching systems can be costly when properly integrated. For
high power laser systems water chillers may be required. Fume
extractors are recommended in order to remove laser debris.
Improper set-up can cause potential mark penetration problems.
Laser etching process requires a higher skilled operator.
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