A small industrial engraving company in Windsor, Ont., has gone where almost no other Canadian job shop has gone before: it’s offering laser ablation services for moldmakers.
ICS Laser Technologies Inc., which marks 20 years in business this year, recently installed a five-axis laser ablation machine made by Swiss-based GF AgieCharmilles (GFAC) on the floor of its 4,250-square-foot plant. When applied to a mold for a plastic part, laser ablation is used to add texture and patterns by removing unwanted layers of steel; the laser ablation performed by a GFAC machine is done with a pulsed ytterbium laser on spot sizes that range in diameter from 30 to 70 microns. The laser is guided by a program that’s based on digital input, usually either a CAD model of the texture to be achieved or a 3D scan of a physical model of the desired surface. By following the digital model, a higher degree of consistency can be achieved than through the traditional method of using chemical etching for creating surface texturing.
ICS Laser president Ian Murray believes the tool can solve a lot of problems for moldmakers – issues with repeatability, for instance. “Because variation is essentially nonexistent on laser ablated molds, service shops in North America can now offer global repeatability on mold surfaces, which can go a long way towards keeping work away from foreign competition,” Murray said. “If vehicle manufacturers, for example, are looking for consistency across the 3D surfaces, then the pulsed laser processing is the way to achieve it because the same pattern can be produced on each of the tools.”
Or take chemical etching. “When texturing with acid, the process has to be stopped away from the parting line or else the acid washes over that corner – it’s a controllable technology, but it can’t always deliver perfect consistency or part geometry,” Murray said. “With laser ablation, we can start and stop the texturing exactly where we want and there’s no etching mismatch when the two mold halves come together. We can also penetrate more layers on the mold with laser ablation than with acid, which allows us to create more interesting patterns.”
Murray had enough confidence in the GFAC machine to go all in, purchasing it without bank or government funding. “We’re only the second company in Canada to have this laser ablation technology, and the first job shop that services and supports the moldmaking industry,” he said. “It’s another golf club in the bag, another way to show OEMs around the globe that they can bring new tooling programs, and new business, into the Essex county area because we can support it.”