Laser bonding is a marking technique that uses lasers and other forms of radiant energy to bond an additive marking substance to a wide range of substrates.
First invented in the mid 1990s by Paul W. Harrison, the founder of TherMark LLC, this patent protected technology produces permanent marks on metals, glass, ceramic and plastic parts for a diverse range of industrial and artistic applications, ranging from aerospace and medical to the awards and engraving industries. It differs from the more widely known techniques of laser engraving and laser ablation in that it is an additive process, adding material to the substrate surface to form a permanently bonded mark instead of removing it as is done in those other techniques.
For metals, parts can be permanently marked with high contrast, high resolution marks for logos, bar-coding, identification and serialization purposes, without damage to the substrate. With glass and ceramics, complex surfaces can be decorated or marked and the traditional kiln firing process is replaced by a laser, with its permanently bonded markings fired on in seconds.
Laser bonding technology was licensed by TherMark LLC to Ferro Corporation, Cleveland, Ohio in 2004 as part of a settlement to long-standing litigation and is often referred to as "CerMark', "CerMarked", "CerMarking", "TherMark", "TherMarked" or "TherMarking". "CerMark" is a registered trademark of the Ferro Corporation. This trademark, like Xerox, has become synonymous with the laser bonding process.
The laser bonding process
Mark quality depends on a variety of factors, including the substrate used, marking speed, laser spot size, beam overlap, materials thickness, and laser parameters. Laser bonding materials may be applied by various methods, including a brush on technique, spraying, pad printing, screen printing, roll coating, tape, and others.
The marking process generally comprises three steps:
1. Application of the marking material.
2. Irradiating the marking material with a laser in the form of the desired mark.
3. Removal of excess, unbonded material.
The resulting marking is permanently bonded to the substrate, and in most cases it is as durable as the substrate itself.
The durability of laser bonded markings
Marks placed on stainless steel are extremely durable and have survived such testing as abrasion resistance, chemical resistance, outdoor exposure, extreme heat, extreme cold, acids, bases and various organic solvents.
Marks on glass have been tested for resistance to acids, bases and scratching.
NASA's International Space Station, or ISS, was home to aluminum squares laser marked with CerMark marking material for almost four years. These squares were part of the Material International Space Station Experiment, or MISSE.
In this experiment test markings were applied to coupons made of materials commonly used in the construction of the external components used on space transportation vehicles, satellites and space stations. Markings were applied using a wide range of different methods and techniques, including laser bonding. The material test coupons were then affixed to spaces provided on test panels, which were then installed onto trays which were attached to the ISS during a space walk conducted during the STS-105 Mission flown on August 10, 2001. The trays were positioned on the ISS so that they could expect to receive the maximum amount of impact damage and exposure to a high degree of atomic oxygen and UV radiation.
The experiment was recovered on July 30, 2005 during STS-114 and returned to earth on August 9, 2005. The markings, DataMatrix two dimensional bar codes, were evaluated and found to be readable and visually looked as good as the day they were placed in orbit.
The laser bonding process is outlined and specified in both military and NASA marking specifications and standards. Laser bonding is also a preferred technique for use in the United States Department of Defense "Item Unique Identification" system (IUID).
- Patents US 6,075,223, "High contrast surface marking" , US 6,238,847, "Laser marking method and apparatus" , US 6,313,436, "High contrast surface marking using metal oxides" , US 6,855,910, "High contrast surface marking using mixed organic pigments" , and EU 1,023,184, "Laser Marking Method" .
- Paul W. Harrison (July 2006), White Paper: "Product Identification in Automated Manufacturing" (PDF), Los Angeles, CA, retrieved 29 January 2015
- Report: "Marking Tests to Certify Part Identification Marking Processes for use in Low Earth Orbit (LEO)", Roxby, D., Siemens Symbology Research Center, 5000 Bradford Drive NW, Suite A, Huntsville, Alabama 35805, Oct. 11, 2005.
- MIL-STD 130M DOD Marking Standard, p.24, Table II
- NASA HDBK-6003 NASA Marking Handbook, Laser Bonding Section 5.1.5, p.15