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Laser Makes Its Mark in Engraving Applications

Photonics Spectra
Nov 2000
Daniel C. McCarthy

Along with its contributions to the telecommunications, semiconductor and defense markets, photonics has revolutionized smaller industries, including the trophy and awards trade, where lasers are used in engraving applications. But unlike the flash-bang solutions provided for larger markets, photonics has delivered something uncharacteristic for the small-shop engraving community: a low-cost instrument.

Inexpensive, air-cooled CO2 lasers made by Synrad Inc. have helped Epilog Laser Corp. create affordable engraving machines for the small-shop market, according to John Doran, vice president of technology at Epilog. "I can't emphasize enough that their product enabled this whole industry," he said.

CO2 lasers need less than 25 W to engrave organics, plastics, wood, anodized aluminum or coated brass, but these lasers can be expensive. One integrator found a solution in an inexpensive, all-metal laser costing less than $4000. Courtesy of Epilog Laser Corp.

At the time, CO2 lasers were based on flowing gas, high voltages and glass tubes, which made them bulky and expensive. A laser component with capability comparable to Synrad's 25-W lasers could cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

"We thought it was a neat use of lasers, but not viable -- especially for small shops, which we targeted," he recalled. "Most of them can't afford a $100,000 product. Cost was our ultimate consideration. If the price didn't come down, we couldn't sell our products."

The two men read about a new all-metal laser from Synrad based on radio-frequency technology and called the company to ask about the cost. At the time, the list price for Synrad's 25-W sealed CO2 laser was just under $5000. "They really hit the bull's-eye," said Doran. "Even now, it remains the least expensive device of its type. A vacuum pump alone costs as much as one of Synrad's lasers."

He added that the lasers provide beam quality that is more than adequate for engraving applications. Epilog uses the low-power CO2 lasers in its systems for engraving organics, plastics, wood, anodized aluminum and coated brass. It relies on additional laser suppliers for any applications that require more than 25 W.

Epilog continues to use Synrad's 48-2 model CO2 laser despite the introduction of competitive instruments on the market. Doran said that Synrad's cost/performance ratio still places the lasers at the top in the 25-W region. "Even now, after 10 years, it's still the best fit," he said.

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