The industry has come a long way from the days of engravers with massive form factors and the need for higher education in order to operate them. What was once seen as a nifty and high-tech alternative to manual forms of engraving has since become a viable solution. Machines are smaller, materials are cheaper, the technology is more intuitive and the whole process is just that much more convenient. This is not to say that laser engraving has replaced manual or even rotary engraving. Indeed, laser and rotary engraving methods are now synonymous with the term “engraving”, especially in the commercial and industrial space. Traditionalists need not be concerned, manual engraving is still around. There is a certain finesse, elegance, romance, expertise and quality that is involved with hand engraved pieces. But, let’s face fact, there’s no way a man in his shop can meet the demands like that of a commercial operation.
The cost of laser engraving machines combined with easy-to-use modelling software have been significant factors in the proliferation of laser engravers. As technology gets better and its adoption increases, the market adjusts to meet the demand. The result, better and more advanced components for lower prices. These days you can get devices with bigger cutting tables and lasers with higher wattages for a half the cost of its predecessors a decade or so ago. And, just like the cycle seen in the computer industry, this created a positive feedback loop that further pushed the advancement of the technology upwards, while pushing the cost of the devices downwards (to a certain point). Back in the day, you needed a keen eye, a sure hand and Jedi-like skills to run an engraver. Now, thanks to easier-to-use software, creating and modelling designs has never been easier. There are even levels of software that you can get; from novice users in the maker (at-home) movement to professional grade software developed for use in the industrial sector.
Walk into a laser engravers shop and you will likely come face to face with a CO2 laser or a fiber laser. The type of laser employed by the company usually depends on the type of material they are working with. Purpose-driven fiber lasers are often used in industrial applications such as the cutting, engraving and marking of uncoated metals. It is also the favored laser type when dealing with plastics. CO2 lasers, on the other hand, are treasured for their versatility. With only minute adjustments the laser can be used on various substrates and materials. Wood, plastic, paper, stones, glass and fabric can all be cut and engraved using a CO2 laser with but a flick of a button.
As if that’s not enough, the technology just keeps getting better. New devices are already underway that seek to do the job more efficiently. Better software and faster cutting speeds is the name of the game, and there is not one but almost a dozen or so companies out there that are continuously pushing the envelope.
This article was written by Erryn Deane. Erryn is the digital business manager for Needham Laser and The Needham Group of companies.