Permanent vanadate laser marking can assist the military or the police in tracing vehicle parts or weapons, improving individual account- ability, says laser marking specialist company Traceability Solutions MD Kyle Parker.
The company supplies vanadate lasers that can permanently mark metals in colour and with codes that are only a few microns in height. No consumables are used in the marking process, which enables large and small parts to be traced and authenticated throughout their life span, from manufacture to end use, he says.
“The main driver behind laser marking is to ensure that the marks are as permanent as possible, because we are aiming for traceability,” he says.
Each two-dimensional (2D) code is a data matrix that uses width and height to encode information. The code also has built-in redundancies to ensure that, even if up to 25% of the code is damaged or unreadable, all the encoded information can still be retrieved.
For high-value products, this method of direct part marking will use an alphanumeric random code that is unique and can be used to track individual parts or products. This is especially important for the medical and automotive industries, as well as the police and military, and enables authentication of, and accountability for, the use of parts.
“The South African Police Service has bought 14 systems for permanently marking weapons,” Parker notes, adding that such codes are also called forensic authentication commodity track-and-trace codes.
A hand-held reader is used to read and check the codes against a database using general packet radio service or wireless fidelity. This also means that automotive parts can be marked at production and scanned at roadblocks by police. Companies that want to ensure the traceability of their assets and the accountability of workers can also scan vehicles and the parts leaving and entering their premises, he explains.
“Owing to the increased speed and versatility of vanadate lasers and laser marking, the applications for on-the-fly marking in high-speed production processes are growing,” he adds.
Further, the 2D code can also be used as a replacement for barcodes on fast-moving consumer goods and can include information on the item’s batch number, its manufacturing date, its expiry date and its country of origin, or even the specific factory where it was produced, he says.
This method of authentication will help to combat grey imports and will help manufacturers to ensure that their distributors only sell parts made by their factories, says Parker.
Meanwhile, the company also supplies carbon dioxide lasers that mark ceramic-coated stainless steel tags placed onto red-hot billets in steel manufacturing. These tags can survive tem-peratures of around 1 100 ºC, pickling and annealing processes, acids, molten zinc and galvanising and are readable after processing, he says.
“Lasers were expensive years ago but are now much more affordable and extremely reliable and versatile. The increased interest in lasers is due to the fact that they are now a good value investment,” he concludes.