Furthermore, initial results also indicate that customers using the optional software suite supplied with innovative Smartpatch technology, can increase texturing speeds by up to 30%.
These improvements in efficiency and quality are a direct result of the process intelligence that has been engineered into GF Laser Workstation Software 1.8.0's Smartpatch technology - an advanced laser texturing patching solution that will enable laser texturing to become a more widely-used manufacturing process.
In the highly-competitive and fast-moving mould tool and die environment, manufacturers are under pressure to produce right first time high-quality textured surfaces on their mould tools, mould inserts etc., in order to reduce lead-times and control operational costs.
Against this backdrop an increasing number of mould tool manufacturers have turned to laser texturing technology to help them achieve the results required.
Laser texturing can be used to apply a myriad of different decorative and functional textures to workpieces by using a laser beam to remove workpiece material layer by layer via a non-polluting, and non-contact process.
The technology is proven to be a sustainable way of applying high quality textures, including complex geometries, to high repeatability - because the process is fully digital. This means that virtually any design, in a digital format, can easily be applied to a 3D workpiece surface.
Furthermore, since the cutting tool used in texturing is a laser beam, issues such as tool wear and breakage are avoided and mean that laser texturing is a reliable, cost-effective and secure process.
However, challenges do exist with the technology and it is these that GF Machining Solutions’ Smartpatch Technology have sought to address.
To date, even the most advanced laser texturing solutions have forced manufacturers to make some compromises between quality and productivity. This is because most existing laser texturing machines randomly apply textures to the workpiece surface, working from one area to the next, to remove material in patches.
Without a smart-patching solution, productivity and quality are compromised because of inefficient texturing strategies and texturing errors caused by the movement of the laser head. (Every patch or section of texture requires the machine head to move).
Movement can create positional deviations from the desired texture design because of thermal changes in the environment around the machine. This can result in undesirable lines appearing along the perimeters of patches and/or the distortion of textured details.
These deviations can lead to quality errors particularly noticeable on very fine textures such as injection-moulded automotive interiors, watches, information and communications technology (ICT) products etc.
To establish the quality- and productivity-enhancing advantages of Smartpatch, GF Machining Solutions' Laser Research and Development Team developed a highly-demanding stainless steel demonstration part featuring a complex honeycomb texture.
When laser texturing the part using standard laser processes 30 more patches were required than when the Smartpatch technology was employed.
This is because a standard laser process will machine a texture from the first layer to the last one, whereas the smart technology option detects a "pocket" (one area where the texture could be unlinked and where the texture's detail can be realised in a single movement).
As soon as a pocket is detected, the machine makes a patch around it and executes all the layers of this pocket to finish it, often requiring fewer layers than were needed in the past.
With intelligent machining strategies embedded in the software, texturing productivity and quality are significantly increased because machine movements are reduced by the number of layers of the targeted texture.
The intelligence embedded in the software reduces machine movements by analysing the desired texture in advance and manages the machining process to eliminate movement-induced deviations from the desired texture.
Because of this embedded intelligence, random application of textures is eliminated because the laser head movement is minimised.
Without Smartpatch, for each layer, the texture's details are split randomly by a patch. Each patch is one machine movement. This influences the final part's quality since, on fine texturing, each patch generates a new machine movement and the thermal changes can generate shifts in position.
The intelligent machining strategies enabled by the Smartpatch technology in GF Machining Solutions' Laser Workstation software revolutionises laser texturing by advancing both quality and productivity.