Develop an innovative solution to solve the technical issues with the aluminum billet temporary marking.
In order to identify the various raw aluminum parts, such as aluminum ingots, manufacturing businesses in this sector have traditionally used paper stickers or glued aluminum plates displaying information in the form of bar codes on the surface of the various parts. Although it includes essential information for its traceability, it goes without saying the durability of such identification is not permanent and once the sticker or the aluminum plate is detached, this leads to undesirable impacts.
Rotalec was therefore mandated to create a traceability solution aimed at designing an optimal, sustainable and efficient marking system, at an interesting operational cost, on top of optimizing the amount of information to be displayed to improve the identification and traceability of the various raw aluminum parts.
Challenges and Issues
- Reduce additional product costs | The materials required for these techniques generate additional product costs since labels or aluminum plates must be used.
- Increase the amount of information to be displayed | Pin stamp marking or ink jet marking of labels limits the amount of information that can be displayed on the available space.
- Ensure permanent traceability | Paper stickers and aluminum plates glued to the raw parts are not permanent. They can fall off and if this occurs, the product loses all traceability.
The optimal solution is a laser marking system suitable for etching 1D and 2D barcode labels directly onto aluminum products.
More specifically, a Class 4 laser marking system has been integrated into the existing aluminum smelter environment.
- Traceability system | In terms of traceability, a laser marking system makes it possible to etch in a well-defined and permanent manner the essential information required on each part.
- Controller integration | In terms of automation, the company’s main controller was, in this case, a Rockwell PLC with Ethernet/IP capabilities. The laser marking system has therefore been configured to ensure compatibility and full integration with their system, providing flawless interfacing when aluminum parts are moved through the various stages of the marking process.
- Machine safety | A mechanism to completely isolate the laser marking unit has been designed to the machine and protect employees from laser sources. This machine safety solution complies with safety standards without hampering the operations or productivity of the existing machinery.
- Motion control system | To be effective, a laser marking system requires a specific focal distance of the part to be identified. Thereby, precise positioning of parts in front of the laser unit is required. A motion control system respecting the required focal distance has therefore been designed. By doing so, when a part on the conveyor is place in front of the laser system, the positioning system identifies the presence of the aluminum part to be etched at a determined angle and adjusts its positioning to ensure the laser etching is always in the same place, depending on the required focal length.
- Machine vision system | Connected to the company’s database, the machine vision system evaluates each barcode to make sure it matches the database and the information is properly etched. Once the part is marked, it is relayed to the next station where it is indexed by the machine vision system.
The company now benefits from a permanent laser marking solution in order to properly identify its aluminum ingots, directly at the end of production, a technological premiere when designing this customized engineered solution.
Laser etching is well defined, permanent and easily readable to the human eye or using a standard barcode reader. As a result, this engineering project has been fully successful.
Key benefits of this customized engineered solution
- No chance of lost traceability with permanently etched barcodes on products.
- Reduced to zero of the additional costs of products previously associated with the labels to be glued.
- Increased efficiency and constancy due to the positioning system which automatically places the pieces according to the predetermined angle required.
- Optimal reliability due to the integrated machine vision system which checks each barcode.
- Integrated laser marking unit become an extension of the existing system on the production line.
- Laser technology allows to etch much more information in a more limited space, which makes it possible to include additional information such as weight, grade, time, date, batch, etc.