Examples of the types of materials we work with.
Composites are formed by combining two or more materials with different properties to form a new material (the composite) with properties that are superior to those of the individual components. For example, carbon fiber reinforcing material is embedded into an epoxy matrix material to form a strong, lightweight structural composite. The carbon fiber by itself is not rigid enough to be used as a structural material, and the epoxy by itself is not sufficiently strong.
Elastomers are organic materials characterized by their ability to deform and then return to their original shape. Natural elastomers have been harvested from trees for centuries and have been used for applications from pencil erasers to car tires. Over the last hundred years, many synthetic elastomers have been developed. The synthetic elastomers are engineered to meet certain needs like wear resistance or chemical compatibility. Laser cutting and engraving are common processes for elastomers. Laser marking is less common.
Foams are made by trapping pockets of gas within a material. Foams are usually made from polymers, but they can also be made from ceramics or metals. In open cell foams, the pockets are interconnected and filled with air. Open cell foams can be compressed easily because the air can flow freely through the pockets. For closed cell foams, the gas pockets are not connected. Instead, each pocket is completely surrounded with solid material. Because the gas is trapped within the pockets, closed cell foams do not compress as easily as open cell foams. All types of foam can be processed by laser cutting, engraving, and marking.
GLASS & CERAMICS
Glass and ceramic materials are inorganic and non-metallic. They share many physical properties including being hard, rigid, and brittle. The key difference between these two types of material is that glass is complete amorphous, while ceramics are crystalline. The most common type of glass is soda-lime glass, which is composed mostly of silica (sand), with added sodium carbonate (soda) and calcium oxide (lime). The soda and lime additives make it easy to shape the glass at high temperature to form tableware, windows, etc. There are also technical glasses that have different additives to provide certain properties like high temperature compatibility or high strength.
Ceramics are formed by creating a thick liquefied mixture of crystalline oxides, nitrides or carbides. The mixture is formed into the desired shape and then fired at high temperature to create a solid ceramic piece. The earliest ceramics were formed by firing clay to form vessels and tiles. Modern ceramics such as alumina (aluminum oxide) and tungsten carbide are highly engineered to provide properties such as electrical insulation and wear resistance. The most common laser processing methods for glass and ceramic materials are marking and engraving.
Metals are inorganic materials with high thermal and electrical conductivity. Metals can be rolled to form plates or sheets, or they can be cast or machined to form more complex shapes. Metals can be pure elements such as iron or chrome. Metals can also be alloys, or mixtures of two or more elements. For example, stainless steel contains both iron and chrome. Laser marking is a common application for metals. Laser cutting and engraving are also possible with sufficient laser power.
Naturally occurring inorganic materials like stones and gems are hard, non-metallic minerals. Gems consist of a single type of mineral, while rocks are aggregates of several minerals. Shells have similar composition and properties to stones and gems. However they grow from living organisms, so they are not classified as minerals. All of these materials can be laser marked and laser engraved. In some cases, they can be laser cut.
Naturally occurring organic materials like wood and leather are derived from plants or animals. Wood is a versatile material that is very amenable to laser processing. Wood comes in many varieties, from soft woods like balsa and pine, to hard wood like cherry and maple. The softer woods are less dense and easier to laser cut than harder woods. The hard woods tend to have finer grain structures and are more suitable to laser engraving. Leather is a natural material created by tanning animal hides. The tanning process makes the leather more supple and durable. All natural organic materials can be laser cut, engraved, and marked.
Paper based materials are made by pressing moist cellulose fibers together to form sheets, and then drying the sheets. The most common source for the cellulose fibers used to make paper based materials is wood pulp. However flax, hemp, and cotton are also used. All types of paper based materials can be processed by laser cutting, engraving, and marking.
Plastics are malleable organic materials that can be extruded to form sheets or molded to form more complex shapes. Plastics come in many varieties, from commodity plastics like acrylic and ABS, to engineered plastics like polycarbonate and acetyl. Commodity plastics are inexpensive and have a broad range of applications, while engineering plastics are developed to meet certain performance requirements like high strength or high service temperature. Nearly all plastics can be processed by laser cutting, engraving, and marking.
TEXTILES & FABRICS
Fabrics (also known as textiles) are flexible materials that are commonly produced by weaving fibers together. The fibers can be natural, such as wool or cotton, or they can be artificial, such as nylon or polyester. Nearly all woven fabrics can be processed by laser cutting. Some fabrics, such as felt and fleece, can be processed by laser engraving and laser marking as well. One key application for fabric is decorating. In decorating, adhesive backed materials or other thermally activated materials are cut to shape and then heat pressed onto a fabric product to create logos, designs, letters, and numbers.