Laser Engraving Company Specializes in Hard-to-Reach Areas
A Missouri firm that began as a mold polishing company now offers a range of precision engraving services for parts and mold components
At facilities located next door to each other in Lee's Summit, Missouri, High Tech Laser & Polishing provides precision laser and polishing services for OEM markets, molders, and the tool and die industry. In one facility, High Tech Laser uses 10 lasers--both CO2 and YAG--to provide precise laser engraving, etching, and texturing services, as well as cutting and drilling. These services include micro laser engraving of various parts and industrial mold components, including cavities, cores, dies, and inserts.
Next door, High Tech Polishing offers finishing operations that include precision polishing of molds, tooling, and medical components. Molding customers reportedly can obtain all SPI mold finishes, from dry blast to diamond mirror finishes. The company specializes in materials ranging from tool steels to stainless steels, copper alloys, and aluminum, and is experienced in the polishing of stretch and extrusion blow molds; custom injection molds; lenses; and optics.
High Tech (www.htlaser.com) was established in 1986 as a mold polishing company and began offering laser engraving in 1993, when it purchased its first YAG laser. Initially, the company's laser engraving services focused on the molding industry, but today, High Tech Laser has expanded its markets to OEMs in numerous industries, ranging from food processing equipment to medical components. In 2005, the company purchased a large 4-foot by 8-foot flat bed CO2 laser that enables cutting and engraving of large materials and allows High Tech to serve the sign manufacturing and metal fabrication industries. Two years later, the acquisition of a 3-axis YAG laser system with a touch probe and camera system enabled the company to offer greater accuracy and unmanned laser engraving.
High Tech's ability to provide precise micro engraving, contour surface engraving, texturing, and 3D engraving--and to access hard-to-reach areas with lasers that provide sharp detail and resolution--are its calling card. Design-2-Part Magazine's David Gaines spoke recently with High Tech's sales manager, Steve Finneseth, and Craig Worrell, sales representative, about the company's diverse offerings.
Design-2-Part (D2P): Can you explain the difference between laser etching, engraving, and cutting?
Craig Worrell (CW): The etching process is used if you're putting a logo into a piece of acrylic--you're using the laser to etch away material to a very shallow depth. With the engraving process, you're actually putting a significant depth into that piece of metal, like when you're engraving into steel. On the cutting side, the laser is cutting all the way through the material. What we can do with the laser depends on the settings and the power used.
Steve Finneseth (SF): When we refer to etching, we're talking about a surface mark, but engraving will have some depth to it.
D2P: What types of parts would need micro laser engraving?
SF: If it's something for the medical industry, since the parts are usually very small, we would use micro laser engraving and hold the tight tolerances that the customer requires. It could be a little plastic part that goes into a hearing aid. Or, a prime example would be that a customer might need a cavity number put on a part that is 0.006-inch tall.
CW: Our lasers have the capability of getting the beam diameter down to 0.001 inch, which allows us to engrave characters that are less than 0.010-inch tall.
D2P: A testimonial from a tool engineer at Da/Pro Rubber, Inc., commends High Tech Laser for its attention to detail, on-time delivery, and having completed several challenging laser engraving jobs. Can you tell us more about these jobs?
CW: A lot of what we do for Da/Pro Rubber are very tiny micro engravings of cavity identifications for their mold plates. The character heights are so small that it takes a microscope to be able to read them. A lot of these are inside very small cavities, and, except for a laser beam, there's no other way to get any type of equipment in there. This beam can be squeezed down to 0.001inch, so this enables us to get into this small area.
I think we are one of the few laser companies that can handle work like this. We have some very seasoned laser technicians with a lot of experience with this type of work, and the variety of equipment that we have is exceptional.
D2P: The Da/Pro testimonial also stated that your micro welding service has provided a more cost-effective alternative for tool repairs and design changes. How is your service more cost-effective in these areas?
CW: Often, when a customer has an issue with mold repair, they will first send the mold to a welding shop that has a micro welder. And then they send it to a machine shop, where they will machine the welds down, and then finally to a polishing shop for final finishing. And a fourth step may be necessary to have the laser engraving replaced.
In our plant, a customer can send the mold to us and it becomes a one-stop, turnkey operation. It will help them in their turnaround and with shipping costs, because we can handle all four of the processes in-house. This is why we can be so cost-effective for mold repairs and design changes.
D2P: High Tech Laser's services also include 3-D engraving, contour surface engraving, and texturing. Can you talk about these services and what they would be used for?
CW: We can texture in small areas, places that would be hard for a chemical etcher to get into. There are some limitations: We can't do large mold surface areas, and we can't go up a side wall. With the laser, we can match many existing textures that are relatively small and in a relatively flat area.
SF: However, we can do ordinary engraving on a contoured surface by using a rotary chuck, so we could engrave it letter by letter. High Tech has the capability of engraving a logo in 3-D as per the customer's electronic file.
D2P: For molds, the polishing process is often used to remove cut lines that occur during machining of the mold. What other mold surface areas would need to be cleaned and smoothed?
SF: Another area that might be removed would be an EDM finish; it might be a mold that has EDM ribs on it. An EDM surface could cause molded parts to hang up or not release out of the mold, so you'd want to remove the EDM ribs by polishing the mold.
D2P: In some instances, a smooth finish will first be added to a mold by hand, and then the mold will be laser engraved. Can you describe how these processes would work, and what kind of equipment you would use?
CW: These tools come to us with marks from the CNC cutters. They then go to our polishing department, where they hand work those machine lines, removing them from the cavity using different grades of stone, sandpaper, and diamond compounds. This gradually brings the mold to a mirror finish. Then the mold goes to our laser department, where we engrave whatever logo, cavity numbers, or recycle codes that the customer requires us to engrave. Then they're shipped back to the mold maker for production.
D2P: Can you talk about some of the applications for your laser processes?
CW: We do a lot of work for the signage industry, for acrylic and wood signs for kiosks, and for tradeshow booths. We will cut the sign to shape, and then engrave a company's logo into it. We do a lot of work in the medical industry, marking a variety of different types of parts.
We also do a lot of engraving in the sporting goods industry. Every year, we do thousands of bow sight parts, which are also very precision parts with graduations engraved into the sighting mechanism. We also put company logos and names on the parts.
SF: These archery parts are anodized parts. The parts come to us already anodized, and then we will etch away the anodizing to leave a permanent image on the part. Another industry we do a lot of work for is the food processing equipment industry. We use the laser on their stainless steel parts. We'll engrave a surface black mark on the stainless steel with the company's logo and name. For example, if you have a piece of stainless, there might be a hole cut out where the customer would want to put a dial, a knob, or an on/off switch. We'll engrave right on these locations. The same is true for stainless steel control boxes. An OEM would want to cut holes for a bunch of wires, or for an LED screen, or other knobs or dials. We will then do the etching either above or below the holes to identify their purpose.
D2P: You've said that your company actually developed and pioneered these finishing processes for mold tooling about 15 years ago. How has High Tech been able to remain a leader in this niche?
SF: The thing that keeps us being the leader is our highly-trained and experienced technicians. This gives us a leg up on the competition. We bought our first laser about 15 years ago, when no one was using a laser to engrave molds. Eventually, we were able to start controlling the depths, and we could go 0.040 inch deep. No one else was able to do this at the time, and laser companies came to us wanting to form a partnership. It was our software that allowed us to do this. We formed a partnership with a laser company, and we were even selling laser equipment for a while and still operating our job shop.
D2P: What distinguishes your company from the latecomers in this field?
CW: It goes back to something that you cannot replace, and that's experience. We've learned to tackle some very difficult jobs. We get a lot of work that is turned down by other companies. I think that we're very well situated to take on the most challenging work.
SF: The molding side of our business is how we got our start, and is still a big part of our business. We now have customers in many other industries. We often get orders of 7,500 parts from the medical field. We get orders to work on the anodized parts that are 1,200-quantity piece runs. So we will work on either high- or low-quantity projects.
CW: A good percentage of the engraving that we do nowadays is non-molding. We decided to diversify into other industries, such as industrial part marking, food processing equipment, medical, aerospace, outdoor sporting, and the sign industry, for continued growth--because so much of the molding work was moving overseas.
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