Fiber laser engravers have made an impact on many industries for years, but the technology keeps improving, making it more accessible for industries to achieve clean engraving lines all with the power of light.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about fiber laser engravers, from how they work to what materials they can engrave.
A fiber laser engraver is a tool used by craftsmen in several industries, proving its worth by engraving a smooth line that can be programmed into complex designs. (1) Fiber laser engravers are most widely used by individuals working on metals or plastics, however, as these engravers are not suitable for carving most organic materials like wood, leather, or glass.
“[…] many maker companies know the value of a laser cutter or laser engraver.”
The word ‘laser’ itself is an acronym which can clue you into how it works: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Like a hand lens in the sun, this engraver takes light emitted from fiber optic cables and powers it into a heated beam that pinpoints each target point on a design, creating a complex and smooth engraving.
There is no set way to categorize different types of fiber lasers. One individual may choose to differ them based on the core size of the optical fiber or based on their mode of operation.
Different modes of operation change how the laser beams are released. Continuous-wave fiber lasers, for example, send a continuous beam of laser light through the machine, while pulsed fiber lasers, gain-switched or q-switched lasers may provide a pulsed beam at different powers and repetitions.
Core size determines how small or large the light size is within the machine’s optical fibers. Single-mode fiber lasers provide a smaller, more concentrated beam that is an average of 8.5 micrometers wide. Their counterpart, multi-mode fiber lasers, can produce a wider beam that is an average of 75 micrometers wide.
Single-mode fiber lasers are often preferred because of their ability to concentrate the beam more efficiently with better quality engravings, while larger beams can engrave larger areas faster, speeding up engraving time.
Another potential category is laser power, which determines how strong and how quickly the laser can engrave materials. These engravers most often come in retail increments of 20W, 30W, 50W, and most recently, 100W machines.
Fiber laser engravers are often used for engraving names, sayings, and quotes onto pieces of metal. These engravers may be utilized for creating placards, or engraving jewelry like wedding rings and friendship necklaces.
Engraving ownership or brand information into electronics or other small items like metal tags and bands is also a common use so companies can manufacture branded goods.
Metals and non-transparent materials like plastics or carbon fiber are the best materials for these engravers, as the laser consists entirely of concentrated light. These lasers can engrave any type or shape of metal – rounded, flat, or concave – so long as it fits underneath the laser head safely.
You may have also come across another laser cutting tool during your research, a CO2 laser. Depending on which laser engraving machine you’re leaning toward it’s important to see the comparisons between the two. For a full in-depth detailed article on what materials they can cut, speed, cost, and much more, please click on the fiber-vs-co2-laser engraving machine link after you’ve finished reading this!
Using a fiber laser engraver is not a difficult task but should be treated with caution. Like any other type of CNC machine or engraver, it should not be operated under the influence, and should only be used by trained personnel over the age of 18.
Operating a fiber laser engraver improperly can be hazardous to your health. You should always wear the appropriate clothes and eyewear, as well as keep anything loose away from the machine during operation, such as hair or jewelry.
Every fiber laser engraver should be operated according to the owner’s manual provided by the manufacturer. Depending on the model, manufacturer, and wattage, the operation steps may be different.
In most cases, several steps should be taken to avoid injury or unnecessary wear on the machine before and after operation:
These basic steps will ensure that the machine is operated safely, keeping personnel out of harms way and ensuring that the machine lasts as long as possible.
How Does Fiber Laser Technology Work?
Fiber laser engravers contain a complex series of technological wonders that allows the fiber optic cables to refract as much light as possible into a carefully directed, concentrated beam.
The engraver machine is sectioned into three parts: the pump, the resonator, and the beam. These three sections are critical for any operator to know if you want to understand the basic inner workings of the machine.
The Pump Module
In the pump module, the laser beam begins its lifecycle. Here, a laser diode is nestled into the machine that emits a light.
Once emitted, the light must travel. This light passes through the fiber optic cables, generating a buildup of strong energy as it passes through the resonator module, until it eventually reaches the beam output which becomes visible to the operator as it engraves the material.
The Resonator Module
The resonator module is designed entirely to energize the light emitted from the pump module and strengthen the output.
Once the light travels from the laser diode, it enters passes through a fully reflective Bragg grating, then enters a gain medium, before traveling through a semi-reflecting Bragg grating.
In the gain medium, it is energized with additional photons and bounces back and forth between the mirrors so that it can generate an energy buildup in the line.
The Bragg gratings act as selective mirrors, with a fully reflective mirror ensuring that it the energized light does not travel in reverse, while the semi-reflective mirror controls the wattage that is eventually output for engraving.
Once the energized light builds up to a certain wavelength, it is released through the semi-reflective mirror and into the beam module.
The Beam Module
The beam module is the final step of the process. Here, depending on your customizations, this section may act differently. For a standard fiber laser engraver, however, the process is reasonably straightforward.
Once energized light that has reached the specified wavelength and passes through the semi-reflective mirror in the resonator module, it enters the delivery fiber. From this delivery fiber, it enters the laser head which concentrates the light into a single beam capable of engraving the materials on the surface below it.
Fiber lasers are not suitable for several types of organic materials because the light beam it transmits may pass through these materials or fail to engrave altogether.
In the case of glass at least, the beam of light passes straight through the transparent polymers and begins engraving the table underneath instead. The only way to get around this problem is to use a different engraver more suited to glass or add pigment to the glass so that the light cannot penetrate the material.
A popular use for fiber laser engraving is jewelry, where it has monumentally changed the industry. (2)
“One of the fastest growing technologies is the use of laser systems in Jewellry making as an alternative to the existing traditional methods of welding, engraving and cutting of metals.”
Now, with the help of this laser technology, jewelers can engrave, cut, and weld metals together with finer precision and cleaner lines.
Materials that are most suitable for fiber laser engraving include nickel, brass, aluminum, stainless steel, metal-plated ceramics, or steel. Plastics are also on the list of polymers that can be etched successfully with this type of engraver.
Before you choose a fiber laser engraver, consider what your needs are for the machines. How much material do you expect to engrave, and does it matter how long the engraving time is for each piece?
Size may also be something to take into consideration depending on the work environment. If you are working out of a home studio, a portable machine will give you the best range of options in the least amount of space. For larger companies with a dedicated workspace, however, it is ideal to have a full room for the machine and an enclosure to provide a safer work environment for the operator.
Depending on the manufacturer, you will be provided with different options to sort through. Fortunately, manufacturers are often willing to provide additional parts or customizations based on your needs if you ask.
A 20W laser engraver is best for shallow marking and designs but will not often be used for deep engraving or cutting. This wattage is also best for infrequent engravings where the items are not time sensitive, as they may take a while to complete.
A 30W engraver is the next step up and can provide better results for only a small uptick in price. This machine is still suited for shallow marking and designs but can perform the work faster and clearer engraving lines. It is common for individuals and companies to opt for a 30W machine for frequent or time-sensitive use.
50W machines are standard for harder materials, as the stronger wattage allows the beam to focus and penetrate harder metals better than a lower wattage. This machine can also perform some cutting on thinner materials. Despite the fact that these machines are better than 30W, it is not as common of a purchase for individuals because of the larger price tag.
If you intend to use the machine often, it may be worthwhile to opt for the 30W or 50W machine if you are looking for a more time-efficient cut with the same or better accuracy.
100W machines are not as common to come across on the market as they are relatively new compared to the other machines, but they engrave much deeper and can fulfill some specialty requirements.
A fiber laser cutting machine can vary greatly in price depending on the size and capabilities of the machine, and how recent the technology is compared to other models. The wattage of the engraver is the primary factor to consider in pricing the machine out.
If you choose a 20W fiber laser engraver, it is likely to run you anywhere from $2,900 to $6,000 USD. Likewise, a 30W will be more expensive, capping out closer to the $7,000 range.
For truly heavy-duty industrial purposes, a 1000W laser engraver can cost upwards of $90,000 for a single machine. For most purposes, however, this is an unnecessary amount of power; a 20W is perfect for most jewelry and soft metal engravings on a semi-regular basis, though it is common for companies to choose the slightly strong 30W machine.
A 20W fiber laser engraver is a powerful machine that can engrave just about any kind of luxury vanity material from marble and gold to aluminum and tile. 20W fiber lasers are the most popular and cost-effective machines for engraving metals.
Since each step up in wattage costs a pretty penny, it’s important to ensure that you can achieve the results you want with a 20W laser, or if you should move up to a 30W or 50W machine.
Engravers are most used to engrave jewelry pieces like rings and necklaces but may also be used for the creation of metal business cards, placards, and signposts. It may also be used to create custom designs in building materials like hard brick, granite, marble, tile, and aluminum.
The possibilities are nearly endless with a 20W engraver, and the machines are relatively small to accommodate small-space studios and workrooms.
Maintenance is an important part of keeping the fiber laser engraver in good working condition for years to come. This is especially true when working in extreme temperatures or if the machine is used frequently. Anyone operating the laser engraver should take careful note of its condition before and after use and maintain the machine as soon as possible if a problem is discovered.
Be certain to check the following:
Remember, never touch the beam and maintain a safe distance away with appropriate eyewear and protective gear when the machine is in operation. Additionally, never touch any of the optical lenses or reflectors directly, as they must remain free of debris to operate correctly.
Purchasing a fiber laser engraving machine is an important decision. Because these lasers are rarely offered as retail purchases in stores, it can be difficult to grasp the size of each machine and better understand its capabilities.
By doing your due diligence and learning about these machines, you will discover which fiber laser engraver is right for you based on your uses and space requirements.
Whether you are furnishing a metal shop, looking to include one at your jewelry repair shop, or seeking a laser engraver for personal use, a little extra research can go a long way to ensuring the machine is the right fit for your purposes.