Hersham-based leading laser marking and laser etching subcontract specialist, Fimark Ltd, has recently invested in a new, state-of-the-art 5-axis laser texturing machine from GF Machining Solutions.
The machine, a LASER 1000 5AX, was installed at the company’s facility in April 2015 and is the first GF Machining Solutions’ Laser Texturing machine to be installed anywhere in the UK.
The machine’s arrival not only significantly strengthens the company’s existing laser marking and laser engraving capabilities but, more importantly, opens up new opportunities for Fimark in the relatively new and emerging laser micro-texturing (aka laser surface texturing) markets.
Explains Charles Dean, managing director at Fimark:
“Laser texturing is a fully-digitalised surface engineering process that has huge potential.
“The technology enables precise 2D and 3D textures to be machined accurately and directly onto complex parts or moulds and its application is being investigated, trialled and used by manufacturers across the world serving a diverse range of industry sectors -: automotive, medical devices, watch making and jewellery etc.
“Fimark is an innovative company and our ‘early adoption’ of laser texturing technology, achieved through the acquisition of the LASER 1000 5AX reflects our ambition to become a market-leader in this specialism.”
The 3D textures created using laser texturing machines have many purposes and can be applied to parts and components to alter and improve their functionality and performance.
Specific textures can be created for example to enhance tribological properties of surfaces to improve their load bearing capacities or to reduce friction and wear rates.
Application examples include:
Textures can be created to form micro-cavities (e.g. grooves or dimples), which act as a miniature hydrodynamic bearings during the relative motion between the two contact surfaces.
Micro-cavities can also provide a sink area for debris particles and, as such, can help reduce friction caused by debris being prevalent in contact zones between surfaces.
If an area of surface contact loses lubrication, the micro-cavities can provide additional lubricant pools that are drawn to the starved area through capillary action.
In addition to ‘functional’ textures, surface texturing can also be used to enhance the aesthetics (look and feel) of numerous components and parts.
Typical examples of this include special editions and customised versions of ‘luxury’ goods (e.g. jewellery, cars, rifles and shotguns etc), with laser texturing technology providing a real cost-effective alternative to more traditional methods such as engraving and etching.
Explains Charles Dean:
“In many aesthetic and functional applications laser texturing has a number of undoubted advantages over more conventional surface etching processes (e.g. less harmful to the environment; less labour intensive and therefore ‘relatively’ quicker; and delivering a more reliable and repeatable process).
“Despite such obvious advantages the hard part is in persuading and convincing manufacturers to consider and try an alternative to their more established and conventional manufacturing methods.
“However, once they see exactly what laser texturing can achieve and the opportunities it presents in terms of new product design they quickly become converted.”
Since acquiring the LASER 1000 5AX, Fimark has focused its efforts on demonstrating the enormous potential of laser texturing technology to a wide range of potential customers by inviting them to the company’s facility and attending Trade Shows etc.
The LASER 1000 5AX
The LASER 1000 5AX (like all GF Machining Solutions’ laser machines) is designed and built on the company’s proven 5-axis vertical machining centre platform, and therefore delivers machining reliability, accuracy and repeatability.
The machine features a 50 Watt pumped-diode YAG Ytterbium fibre laser, with the laser beam being moved and controlled by a configuration of Galvo mirrors (located in the machine’s head) that direct the beam onto a work-piece, via a self-focusing F-theta lens. The laser beam itself can be focused to a spot size (25, 40 or 70 microns) on the work-piece.
The machine’s 5-axis capabilities are provided by an A-axis tilting head and a 380mm diameter B-axis rotating table and, similar to conventional 5-axis machine tools, provides manufacturers with a number of advantages over 2- and 3-axis machines e.g. reduced job set-ups, reduced cycle times, improved part accuracies due to less work-handling etc.
The laser texturing process starts with a CAD image (i.e. a digital bitmap / gray-scale file) of the pattern or texture required. From this the machine’s on-board design software automatically and intuitively calculates how to achieve/machine the desired result and includes transition-free patching, UV mapping for applying random and over-lapping textures, and full 3D simulation of the machine programme.
For ease of set-up and process control the machine’s head features a sophisticated Cognex In-Sight HR vision system camera and a Renishaw 3D Touch probe.
To ensure part accuracies Fimark has installed its machine in a purpose-built, temperature-controlled room.