Laser Marking

Why is laser marking an essential value-add service in A&D?

When you plan a test or assembly program with your service provider, how will you identify and track your components from the manufacturer to the final circuit board assembly? Aerospace has strict requirements for detailed documentation and part number specs, but is that paperwork trail enough?

Product markings on each component offer the most reliable method for ID and tracking through your supply chain and assembly. While aerospace has relied on ink marking or labeling in the past, high-tech laser marking is a superior option. 

Laser marking can be performed quickly and efficiently to custom specs as part of distribution, test programs or assembly programs.

High-Tech Laser Resolution, Precision & Control

Spirit’s Epilog FusionEdge laser machine uses a fiber optic cable to precisely direct a laser beam onto a component’s surface. Unlike a CO2 laser, there is no combustion where the fiber optic laser meets the surface, and therefore no heat exposure that can compromise a component’s functionality.

The laser draws alphanumeric identifiers, serial numbers, barcodes or images like logos. It etches and discolors the external component packaging with the computer programmed image to create a custom marking.

Laser Marking Corbin
Lab tech Corbin Pearson offers a laser marking demo

Programming & Customization

Epilog FusionEdge laser marking machine
Epilog Laser machine camera and precision controls

The laser marking is permanent and high-resolution, making the markings easily readable by manual inspection or automated scanners. The laser machine uses electronic programming, templates and image files to precisely direct the laser for each individual component or for uniform marking across multiple components. The customer can specify what markings are required and in what configuration and location.

Alignment & Depth Control

Automation and a camera positioning system control the laser alignment and depth for accurate mark placement. The depth control of the laser etching is particularly important to protect package integrity and the internal component, especially as components are becoming smaller and lighter.

Precision depth control of the laser mark allows an etched mark that is just deep enough to be legible and permanent without going so deep as to damage the package seal or potentially etch the interior of the component.

Laser mark depth range

Production Control & Traceability

Most electronic components come marked with part numbers or lot information from the original manufacturer. Parts may undergo additional services, testing or qualification, and finally, assembly onto a circuit board before ever reaching the end customer. 

Testing High-Reliability Parts

Whether the component is going into stock or directly onto a board, the end customer needs to be able to trace its origin back to the OEM. If a part receives modifications or testing, it needs to be differentiated from any original manufacturer product or stock. While part and lot numbers and documentation can help with identification, a custom laser marking on the parts is a physical insurance that serviced parts are identifiable.

Just as important are markings for rejected parts. Parts undergoing destructive testing or parts that fail testing or screening for hi-rel applications should never be mixed back into stock. Laser marking these components is an additional insurance that rejects are physically segregated and will not be used and ultimately fail in production.

Purchasing data and documents can trace a product, designate any testing or modifications performed and identify service providers. However, laser marking makes it possible to track very step with physical part markings. Customers can add lot codes or customer part numbers to a component to differentiate parts receiving services from original stock. 

Circuit Board Marking

PCBs (printed circuit boards) can also be physically laser marked for traceability of the overall assembly. Customers often need their own product marking and logo at this stage. 

A service provider with a laser marker can ensure this step happens on-site at the contract manufacturer before the board is shipped. The customer receives the finished board ready to use with full traceability and their own unique identifiers and logos.

Circuit boards
Assembled circuit cards

Laser: the Superior Marking Method

Aerospace part marking methods include other options like ink and labeling, but laser marking offers a permanent physical mark on the component package that remains legible over time. Even after a part leaves the warehouse and has to perform in harsh environments, the mark is physically etched on the surface and less susceptible to erosion and fading. 

Ink: Old-school ink marking often required custom tools to print an image in ink onto a component package. The ink marking had to be tested for resistance to solvents and was at risk of fading, smudging, or fading in the long run. 

Labels: Adhesive labels, another tracking method, have to leave minimal residue on high-reliability packaging. At the same time, they can be peeled off or tampered with and are at risk for physical wear, damage or friction peeling.

Spirit Laser Mark with laser flash
Laser marking is effective on plastic and metal surfaces.

Ink marking and label ink can fade or smudge over time, causing errors in manual reading or barcode scanning. Laser marking does not leave any residue or FOD. Laser Marking templates and controls are digital and customizable, reducing the materials needed to perform the marking. 

Since the mark is etched into the component surface, there is no risk of a laser mark fading, smudging, peeling or becoming illegible over time.

Counterfeit Prevention

Laser marking is harder to remove or alter than ink or labels. Secure digital programing and image file exchanges with a trusted service provider guarantee customer marks and logos are authentic, consistent and legible. 

Whether tracing a marked component back to the OEM or on a completed circuit board, laser marking offers physical part identification that is more difficult to counterfeit. While counterfeiters may attempt to sand off markings or add characters to a part number, they lack the accuracy and digital controls to cover a marking or uniformly alter it.

Customers working with trusted supply chain providers with authorized distribution and relationships with the OEM can ensure custom laser marking is uniform in fonts, placement, sizing and imaging. There is no need for solvent testing a laser marking for permanence. Customers can trust that parts laser marked in their program are authentic.

Stand-Alone Laser Marking & Program Add-Ons

Laser marking can be performed quickly and in high volume with no impact to lead times, making it cost-efficient and easy to add as a step in any service program. 

Spirit’s laser marking is performed in our warehouse alongside our other on-site value-add services. Marking products on-site as soon as work is performed offers the best traceability and product control.

microelectronics laser marking
Laser mark detail

Efficient laser marking can also be an easy-to-add step in more complex supply chain programs. Supply programs in aerospace can include processes such as:

Laser marking parts that undergo these programs allows a customer to differentiate parts from base-level OEM components. 

Laser Marking Offers Efficient Traceability & Control

Customers may not physically mark components until parts arrive in their warehouse. They need laser marking processes to be quality controlled and meet supply chain security expectations for logo and image controls. Without the right type of laser marking with the right digital controls, a laser can etch too deep or too hot and damage a high-reliability or sensitive component.

In a worst-case inventory scenario, a large warehouse may lose track of which components receive value-added services if services are only tracked by paperwork or electronic management. Down the line, parts in flight on a board may need to be traced, and individual components may be difficult to trace if they are only marked by the OEM. For specialized and custom hi-rel boards, this traceability matters much more than for mass-produced commercial boards.

microelectronics laser marking
Laser mark detail

As with many supply chain services in aerospace and defense, laser marking offers a level of insurance to protect your part, your assembly, and ultimately your mission. Spirit’s laser marking process is quality controlled, and we work closely with our customers to mark parts securely and within the bounds of product safety. 

With a trusted laser marking process performed right at your electronics distribution source, you add a level of physical traceability and part ID to maintain care, custody and control of your product from the minute it is delivered on your dock.

Spirit: Behind the Screen podcast

Podcast Ep. 36: Laser Marking for Microelectronic Traceability: What We Can Mark and Why

In this episode of our Behind the Screen podcast, Spirit’s Lab Technician Corbin Pearson joins Marti McCurdy to talk about our Epliog fiber laser machine. Corbin explains that the laser marker can be programmed for depth of the marking as well as placement and automated serialization for multiple parts in a lot or tray.

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