Stainless steel laser engraving: A Guide
- 18 Aug, 2022
Stainless steel is one of the most popular types of metal, with a recent study finding that "in 2020, global stainless steel production was measured at just under 50.9 million metric tons". This is hardly surprising, given that it is a highly versatile material that can serve a variety of functions. For example, it is typically used within the construction of industrial machines and equipment, while also being used for various commercial purposes, such as the creation of metal ID tags.
Of course, metal ID tags and similar products require laser engraving to serve their purpose. Thankfully, laser engraving stainless steel is relatively straightforward, providing that you use the best technology or laser machine.
What is stainless steel?
To put it simply, stainless steel is made up of iron alloys that make the material resistant to rusting or corrosion. To classify as stainless steel, it must contain at least 11% chromium. There are currently over 50 grades of stainless steel materials to choose from. However, the most common form of stainless steel is 304. While typically used in industrial applications, it's likely the form of steel you encounter the most regularly.
What are the benefits of laser engraving stainless steel for metal tags?
There are many reasons to use metal tags within your business. For example, they can be used to:
- Monitor the use and performance of your equipment more effectively.
- Allow for easier repairs, as you can use the tags to determine when some maintenance or upkeep is necessary.
- Heighten safety measures within your business (Less than 25% of equipment stolen is recovered unless it has a tag.)
- A lot of information can be added to blank tags, including company branding, such as logos.
There are also many benefits to using stainless steel as your material of choice for these tags, as opposed to other materials such as wood or plastic. This is mainly due to the fact it is a highly durable material, which is unlikely to rust, rot or break. As a result, it is suitable for long-term use.
Is it hard to laser engrave stainless steel?
Stainless steel is popular due to its durability, however, this sometimes makes the laser engraving process a little harder. This is because stainless steel contains chromium. When exposed to the oxygen in the air, chromium forms a thin layer over the surface of the material which makes stainless steel resistant to rusting and corrosion.
When it comes to laser engraving, this corrosion resistance must be bypassed to mark stainless steel. However, advancements in technology mean that mark stainless steel does not need to cause a headache for manufacturers or your production lines.
Can I engrave stainless steel with a laser?
Laser engraving is quickly becoming one of the most popular methods for engraving metals. This is because, when compared to hand engraving, dot peen marking or etching, the process can save a lot of time and energy. This means it is often the most cost effective approach to marking stainless steel. Lasers are also the most effective tool for stainless steel engraving, and there are a variety of laser engraving methods you may wish to consider. Such as:
Using a high-powered fiber laser
Using a fibre laser can remove the chromium oxide layer from the surface of the material. This is because this type of laser is powerful (ranging from 4Kw-20KW), and operates at a high speed. As a result, it can be used to engrave an effective design on stainless steel. For example, this can be used to add logos to company ID tags. However, this type of laser machine is typically used for industrial applications, such as in the creation of medical devices.
Using a CO2 laser
C02 lasers are powered by gases, such as carbon dioxide and can be used on a variety of materials, such as plastic, wood and metals. However, in order to work effectively on stainless steel, it must be pre-treated.
Alternatively, you could try a deep engraving technique to mark stainless steel. This involves slowing down the marking speed of the laser, and ensuring the laser power is not set too high, before repeating the process. This low marking speed often allows for a clearer, sharper design at the end of the process.
Laser annealing is another effective form of laser etching. This time, a laser beam is used to gently heat the metal. This causes the metal to oxidise, sometimes resulting in a change of color. However, this allows you to effectively engrave stainless steel, without it losing any of its anti-corrosion properties.
Will engraving stainless steel cause it to rust?
Part of the process of engraving stainless steel revolves around removing the chromium oxide layer that has formed on the surface of the material. As a result, this could leave the material more prone to oxidation (rusting) due to the breakdown of the oxide layer. However, providing that the right equipment is used to engrave the stainless steel, this should not be a cause of concern. This is because high-quality technology will help the stainless steel retain its durable qualities, while also featuring quality marking.
What is the best way to laser engrave stainless steel?
As mentioned above, there are various ways in which you can use a laser to leave deep markings on stainless steel. However, the most effective method is likely to use a high-powered fiber laser.
Not only is this the quickest and most efficient method, but it will also ensure that any markings are permanent. This means you will not be squinting or trying to figure out what the exact serial numbers are on a tag that is a few years old. Furthermore, fiber lasers can be used to engrave a wide variety of materials, such as titanium, brass, copper and iron.
If you have any further questions about laser engraving stainless steel or would like to buy some blank stainless steel tags for your business, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We're always happy to help!