Laser Cleaning FAQs
Laser cleaning is one of the innumerable processes that an SPI Fiber Laser is capable of performing. Many of the processes bear similarities, and for that reason, it is important to detail the specifics of each, and why it offers its own unique set of benefits. In this article, we have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions that we receive regarding the laser cleaning process.
What is laser cleaning?
Laser cleaning is a process whereby contaminants or impurities, such as carbon or rubber, are removed from a material’s surface through the use of laser irradiation. The purpose of this is to literally clean the material that is being worked with. Cleaning with a laser may be necessary after other industrial processes such as drilling or cutting (read cutting FAQs here) and can successfully be used when cleaning intricate or textured surfaces.
How does the process work?
While there are many different types of laser, they generally work in the same way when it comes to cleaning, although output power, pulse parameters, and wavelength can change dramatically.
The laser cleaning process works by having a laser pulse directed at the surface of a material, which blasts this layer off. The contaminants that you are trying to remove are mostly vaporised, leaving very little waste material behind. Any waste that is left is in the form of particle dust, and it’s a simple process to suction this away.
By adjusting the laser output energy, you can remove virtually anything from a surface including non-organic materials. By controlling the energy levels, various surface contaminants cam be removed (e.g. organics, mineral oxides or ceramics) with no damage to the underlying substrate.
It is also both a non-contact, and non-abrasive process.
Will laser cleaning damage my material?
The laser beam will leave no chemical, mechanical or thermal strain on the substrate itself. This means you can safely pulse the surface layer of your material.
Furthermore, as laser systems, particularly fiber lasers, offer the user a great deal of control, the depth at which you want to work at can be highly accurate. This is useful for applications where you may only want to remove a very thin layer, such as a topcoat of paint and not the primer below.
What are the applications of this process?
There are many reasons that users may wish to use this process. Generally, these can be divided into three categories; micro applications, macro applications, and large-scale applications.
These applications include, but are not limited to:
- The removal or de-coating of paint from a surface
- Preparation treatment for applications involving adhesive bonding or coating. Some materials must be cleaned before they can undergo certain processes, such as welding or brazing (read welding FAQs here), as contaminants will prevent successful completion of these tasks
- Ablating metals (read ablation FAQs here) or plastic surfaces for labelling and marking applications as well as other purposes
- Cleaning mould from materials, or for de-oiling purposes
- The removal of rust from metal surfaces
- Cleaning metal surfaces (e.g. following processes such as cutting and drilling (read drilling FAQs here))
- Preparation for and cleaning of finished items from the additive manufacturing process (read additive manufacturing FAQs here)
- Cleaning of artworks and statues and monuments
- Removal of traffic film from cars, aeroplanes, signage, etc.
The invention of laser-based cleaning has revolutionised this industry and allowed for a much greater completion of micro applications. Industries have developed rapidly in recent years, and parts, processes, and pieces have become much smaller. The high level of control and accuracy that cleaning with a laser offers is the most efficient and cost-effective solution for many sectors wishing to work at more micro levels.
What industries is it used in?
Given the range of applications that the process is used for, it is utilised by many industries, such as:
- The solar industry for de-coating solar panels
- The aerospace industry for removing paint and traffic film from flights
- The automotive, manufacturing and ship-building industries for preparation treatment
- The food industry, where laser cleaning is used on something like baking trays
- The semi-conductor manufacturing industry, where cleaning is needed to remove micro contaminants from silicon wafers
- In fine art, where lasers can be used to restore paintings to their condition when they were created, similarly this can work for cleaning of statues and monuments
What are the advantages?
There are many advantages offered by this application:
- No Substrate wear – No problem will be presented when it comes to substrate wear, there is absolutely no abrasion
- Environmentally friendly – The small amount of waste that is produced isn’t harmful or dangerous to the user. This makes it an extremely environmentally-friendly process
- Automated – It is a process with a high level of automation. This reduces the amount of operational time a user needs to commit, as well as allowing operations to be completed in dangerous or harmful environments
- Precision and control – A huge amount of control is offered to users, allowing them to work with small materials and to a high degree of accuracy
- Chemical free – Another huge environmental benefit is that fiber laser cleaning (unlike traditional cleaning techniques) don’t use toxic chemicals, this is beneficial to the environment, materials being worked with and the user
- Non-contact process – As with all fiber laser applications, cleaning is a totally non-contact process. Only the laser beam makes contact with the material surface and through programmatic control cleans the surface layer
- Micro applications – The cleansing of micro components (e.g. in the electronics and semi-conductor industries)
- Lower power consumption – This application requires much reduced power consumption than numerous other cleaning methods
How is the process similar to other laser applications?
Many of the laser processes are similar in nature, and laser cleaning has links with laser ablation, laser engraving (read engraving FAQs here) and laser marking (read marking FAQs here). For example, one single fiber laser setup can be used to clean the surface of a material, engrave it and then label it with a mark afterwards.
Are there added benefits to using a fiber laser?
Using a fiber laser to laser clean will also offer you additional benefits too. They have a much longer life than their gas or crystal laser counterparts, and therefore maintenance costs are much lower.
In fact, thanks to our ‘Fit & Forget’ technology, you will find that our fiber lasers enjoy a maintenance free life, allowing you to simply focus on the application at hand.
Furthermore, one setup can perform multiple applications. For example, this would allow you to clean the surface layer of a material, and then perform the laser marking process on it afterward. The efficiency benefits of this are one of the biggest reasons that manufacturers are now turning to fiber lasers as a staple part of their processes.
You can read more about our fiber lasers here.
Do you have a question that you can’t see listed?
It’s quite possible that you might have a question that you can’t see in this article, and that’s no problem! With a team of experts who have spent many years within the laser and fiber laser industry, we have a great pool of knowledge when it comes to the various laser processes, subscribe to our updates here. If you would like to find out more or ask us a question, please get in contact by calling +44 (0) 1489 779 696 or make contact with us here.
Image Credit: Olessya
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