Case Study: Automated Marking Machine for Traceability

Project and Challenges

Rotalec was engaged to provide an innovative solution to common issues with existing aluminum billet marking technology.

In order to trace products, the aluminum industry has historically glued either paper stickers or aluminum plates with barcode information to the element’s surface.

These approaches present the following challenges:

  • Loss of Traceability:

Paper stickers and aluminum plates glued to the product have the potential to fail. They can fall off and become lost. If this occurs, the product loses all traceability.

  • Consumable Costs:

The materials needed for these techniques generate consumable costs, as labels cannot be reused once marked.

  • Limited Space for Information:

Pin stamp marking and ink jet marking limit the amount of information that can be marked onto the available space.

Rotalec's Solution

Rotalec provided a laser marking system well-suited to print 1D and 2D barcode labels directly onto aluminum products.

We applied a Class 4 laser marking system to the existing aluminum smelter environment.

Safety

We designed a mechanism to fully enclose the laser marking unit, protecting humans from the laser sources. This machine safety solution met safety standards and did not hinder the operation or productivity of the existing machinery.

Positioning System

To be effective, a laser marking system requires a specific focal distance from the part it is marking. This necessitated precise positioning of parts in front of the laser unit.

Aluminum Billet MarkerWe created a positioning system that would respect the focal distance required. When a part arrived in front of the laser system on the conveyor, the positioning system identified the presence of the object, attached to the specified corner, and adjusted the object to ensure the laser etching was always in the same location at the correct focal distance.

Vision System

Once the part was marked, it moved on to the next station where it would be indexed by our vision system. With access to the client’s entire database, the vision system assessed the barcode to ensure it matched the database and was printed correctly with accurate information.

Controller Integration

The client’s main controller was a Rockwell PLC with Ethernet/IP capabilities. We configured our laser marketing system for compatibility and full integration with this system, providing flawless interfacing as aluminum parts moved through the process.

The Result

The client was able to manufacture permanently marked aluminium ingots.

Key Benefits of the Technology:

  • No chance of lost traceability with permanently engraved barcodes on products.
  • Reduced consumable costs associated with each label to zero.
  • Increased efficiency.
  • Laser marking unit became an extension of client’s existing system through seamless Internet IP integration.
  • Added reliability, as barcodes could be double-checked through integrated vision system.
  • Laser technology allows for much more information to be etched into a smaller space, enabling the client to include additional information such as the weight, grade, hour and date, batch, etc.

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