We first covered laser ablation being applied in moldmaking back in 2011, but in recent months we've been hearing a lot more about it. This prompted us to reached out to industry for some insight, which I thought I'd share.
I'm told that Ian Murray of ICS Laser Technologies has the only laser ablation machine in Canada, which he uses to help moldmakers since it may not be cost-effective for them to own the machine themselves. He has been touring trade shows this year in an effort to explain laser ablation to OEMs, tool builders and molders, who he says, are all excited about what is going on.
Ian explains, "Laser ablation is the process of using a laser to remove very, very fine slices of steel. We burn it away, and because the slices are so small and the machine moves so quickly, we are able to create intricate patterns." He notes that this is not something achievable with present-day technologies (for example, acid or chemical etch).
Laser ablation is a wonderful alternative to the chemical etch process. It increases quality dramatically, as well as repeatability. "And not just repeatability with ICS, but global repeatability. For example, if you are building molds in Brazil and someone else is building molds in Detroit and you are both having them grained or textured, and it is supposed to be the same grain pattern, very often if they shoot these plastic parts somewhere else, they find that when they come out of the press, the grain patterns don’t match up. That is a big problem in automotive or medical. People want consistency with the plastic parts," says Ian.
He continues, "Laser ablation is all computer driven and computer processed, which means I could, if I were an OEM, give you an electronic file and give someone else the same electronic file, and if you were both running the same equipment that I have, the process will be identical.