What is Laser Engraving?
Laser engraving involves a high-intensity laser concentrated into a single beam directed at a piece of material, such as metal, quickly melting the material’s surface layers and creating the desired pattern. Laser engraving has many advantages over alternative methods of engraving, such as drills, saws, stencils, molds, etc. Designs can be produced at a faster clip with significantly more accuracy while also providing more dependability. Also, over time, laser engraving is more cost-effective due to the durability of the parts. Tools used in more dated methods tend to wear down more quickly and therefore need to be replaced or repaired more often.
Laser engraving is used across an array of industries for a multitude of applications. There are also a few different types of laser engravers that industries can utilize, fiber and CO₂ lasers being the most popular. Automotive, aerospace, medical/dental, jewelry, and kitchenware are just some of the industries that take advantage of what fiber laser engraving can offer. Laser engraving enables workers in these sectors to label parts and equipment, create designs, and personalize products quickly and efficiently using high-speed laser marking. However, engraving is not just for industrial applications. Individuals looking for creative outlets have also found many ways to use laser engraving in their homes to make customized works of art!
What is a MOPA Laser?
Simply put, Master Oscillator Power Amplifier (MOPA) is a technology applied to laser beams that intensify their power up to fourfold. MOPA can be applied to either fiber or CO2 lasers and work by enhancing the frequency of the laser by creating oscillations resulting in rapid, powerful pulses. These pulses work by rapidly heating up the materials and etching or engraving the materials.
To break down the acronym in simpler terms, the master oscillator creates the diodes, or the light particles, in a low-powered beam. Then, the power amplifier receives the light path and increases its strength until it reaches the desired level.
MOPA Laser vs Fiber Laser
As mentioned above, MOPA is a technique that can be effectively applied to a fiber laser. That is, without MOPA, the output of a fiber laser is less powerful. Fiber lasers use what is called Q-switch technology. This indicates that they can generate short, high-energy optic pulses to create patterns or designs. While powerful, the limitation of this technology lies within the number of kilohertz (kHz) generated by the laser, compared to when MOPA technology is utilized.
Different from watts (W), which refer to the energy that is generated, kHz refers to the frequency of the pulses. Without MOPA, a laser's light path has a frequency of 500 kHz. Coupled with MOPA, this can jump to an impressive 4,000 kHz. OMTech has MOPA fiber lasers that reach this 4,000 kHz threshold while generating 100 W of output energy. The result is a more powerful beam that allows you to engrave in color.
How Do MOPA Fiber Lasers Engrave in Color?
In metals and alloys, a MOPA fiber laser can engrave in color due to the high power generated by the technology accompanied by the introduction of air. This surface oxidation chemically alters the material which creates a permanently colored surface. In materials that don't have the same type of reaction to heat and oxygen, such as hard plastics and acrylics, the color change is created by using a powdered dye.
What Materials Can I Work With Using a MOPA Laser?
MOPA lasers can work with an array of materials and are suitable for any material that can be gradually heated up to a very high temperature. MOPA lasers are ideal for engraving:
- Stainless steel
- Carbon steel
- Hard plastics
- Other metals
What are the Industrial Applications of MOPA Fiber Lasers?
A variety of industries utilize laser engraving. Using a MOPA fiber laser can greatly increase productivity and make fabricating products, parts, and equipment far more easy and profitable. In an industry setting, MOPA fiber lasers can be used for:
- Automotive - Dashboard components, small parts such as spark plugs, and safety equipment such as seatbelts all need to have a country of production and serial numbers etched into their metal surfaces.
- Aerospace - All aerospace components must have their specified parts' numbers engraved onto their bodies so that when they are in need of replacement, engineers know exactly which parts they need to acquire.
- Medical/Dental - All parts engraved for the medical and dental fields must be traceable and clearly marked. These are required to be high on durability due to excessive cleaning and sterilization processes.
- Kitchenware - The knobs, buttons, and appliance serial numbers must be clearly etched. This can be done quickly using high-speed laser marking.
What are the Home-Based Applications of MOPA Fiber Lasers?
Many home hobbyists have discovered the exciting possibilities of having their own MOPA fiber laser machine for their home workspace. The projects one can undertake are seemingly endless and are simply not feasible without having access to a color fiber laser. They include:
- Jewelry and keychains - Colorful designs, detailed personalizations, and even safety or medical information can be etched onto these intricate pieces.
- Cell phone and laptop cases - Having a pop of color on a cell phone or laptop case can add the personality of the owner to the piece and help with identification information.
- Holiday ornaments and decorations - These items can be personalized using color laser engravings to be enjoyed for years and even be passed down through generations.
- Home address number plaques - Because these need to be durable due to the weather elements involved, they are a perfect project to be created with strong metals and a MOPA fiber laser. They could display an array of colors and fonts to reflect the dynamic of the family.
- Personalized last name signs - These can be standalone signs or plaques that are affixed to the home or mailbox. With abundant color and font options, they can incorporate designs, family crests, and even the first names of the family members if they so choose.
- Trophy plaques - While usually boring and cut-and-paste, trophy plaques made with MOPA fiber laser marking can have an array of hues and styles and elevate your celebration!