If your company is involved in metal extrusion, automotive engineering, or the production of construction materials, direct part marking is likely a part of your daily operation. Markings like data matrices and product batch codes play an essential role in creating complete supply chain traceability. As such, manufacturing sectors like aerospace production often maintain rigid marking standards to enable product tracking and reporting. With full traceability, companies are able to:
Ensure that all materials are quality-assured
Perform recalls in the event of a safety failure or code violation
Companies can place the required traceability markings on through a variety of ways. The modern industrial coding market is large and diverse with different solutions available to code parts of all sizes and materials. All of these solutions utilize unique machines that excel in their marking contexts.
To help companies decide how to best code their products, we have profiled three of today’s most common part marking methods—inkjet printing, laser etching, and pin marking/dot peening. Here’s where each solution works best:
1. Inkjet Printing
Inkjet printing is a non-contact marking method that is effective with a variety of substrates and shapes. A form of digital printing, inkjet printers take images from electronic files and place them directly onto product parts. The non-contact printheads built into inkjet printers allow the machines to mark traditionally difficult surfaces including concave, convex, small, and otherwise difficult-to-reach areas.
Inkjet printing can be performed by a few different machines. However, the most common are continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers and thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers. CIJ printers are large and built for fast-moving production lines. Offering max speeds around 1000 feet per minute, CIJ printers are a good choice for companies that require dependable, uninterrupted marking 24/7.
TIJ printers are more mobile, lightweight, and affordable than their CIJ counterparts. Generally weighing around 5 pounds, TIJ printers can be used either on a production line or in a handheld fashion. Their codes are of comparable quality to CIJ printers, although their speeds are slightly lower (around 300 feet per minute).
Both CIJ and TIJ printers are compatible with a diverse ink catalog, enabling them to mark parts made from:
Although inkjet printed codes are machine scannable and legible to the human eye, they are susceptible to damage in extreme environments. If a part is expected to experience significant physical abuse or exposure to harsh chemicals, laser etching or pin marking will be a better fit.
2. Laser Etching
Like inkjet printing, laser etching is a non-contact marking method. However, instead of using ink to mark the substrate, laser machines use concentrated heat. When placed appropriately in a production line, laser etching machines can achieve extremely high speeds and efficient throughput. Without the need for consumables like ink, lasers can also reduce overall operational costs.
While the lack of consumables can improve cost-effectiveness, it also restricts the versatility of the machine. Whereas a CIJ printer can mark any number of porous and non-porous substrates as long as the appropriate ink formula is used, laser marking machines are limited in material compatibility.
Laser systems vary in which marking methods they use, and these methods are only effective with specific substrates. For example:
- Ablation marking works well with cardboard, glass, metal, and plastic.
- Engraving works well with metal and plastic.
- Tempering works well with plastic.
- Fracturing works well with glass.
With these differences in marking effectiveness, it is essential to meet with an expert before buying equipment. Additionally, the thermal stress produced by lasers can damage certain parts. Meeting with an expert can verify that your products are well-suited for laser applications.
3. Pin Marking/Dot Peening
Another part marking method is pin marking (also known as dot peening) which marks with full contact and specializes in metal and rigid plastics. Per their namesake, pin marking systems use indenting pins to place characters and codes onto thick materials. The pin creates small dots that work together to create a larger image. The light contrast between the indented dots and the smooth surface allows the placed barcodes and data matrices to become machine-readable.
Pin-marked codes are permanent and the pin marking machines carry a low upfront cost. That said, the physical toll of the pin marking process eliminates compatibility with thinner materials. This limited substrate selection restricts pin marking from being a viable option for many industries.
Need Help Deciding Which Marking Solution Will Work Best for You?
Each industrial coding system has strengths and specialties. Knowing which option will work best for a company requires a deep understanding of materials, production processes, and marking hardware. By partnering with InkJet, Inc, you have access to this knowledge and more.
For over thirty years, InkJet, Inc. has worked with companies across the manufacturing world to develop and implement industrial marking solutions. We know which techniques fit where, and we help each client discover the solution that will improve their business. Contact us today to get started.