Laser Texturing Metal Surfaces Using Laser Drilling Technology

Cross section of laser textured
surface in a high temperature
nickel alloy produced using

Laser texturing is a form of laser drilling that involves producing a pattern of ‘blind’, or partial depth, holes to create textures on the surfaces of metals, glasses, and plastics. Applications for this capability have come from automotive, medical device, and mold-making industries just to name a few where the process is becoming an integral part of product design.

Laser surface texturing is used to create patterns of features varying in sizes and depth from a few micrometers to more than 200 micrometers (0.008 inch) and shapes including hemispheres, squares, lines, and grooves. These patterns are often produced on blow molds and injection molds to impart a certain texture on the part produced from the mold. This laser process is helping mold makers improve the level of control of surface textures and increase the variety of textures for molds.

The process can be applied to a range materials including metals, glass, and plastics for applications, including automotive interiors and exteriors parts; electronics; medical devices; and household goods.

Historically, surface texturing has been carried out using either five-axis CNC machining or chemical etching. Texturing with a CNC machine is often costly because the process requires very small, specialized tools. Though chemical etching is typically less costly, the quality and consistency of the textured surface is not as controlled because there is no way of predicting the exact appearance of a product until it is molded. In addition, the toxic and corrosive chemicals used in the chemical etching process have a negative impact on the environment and require special handling to avoid harm to the people exposed to them.

Laser surface texturing offers a number of advantages over machining and chemical etching. First, there are no special tools (machining) or artwork (chemical etching) required to form very small features. Secondly, there is virtually no impact to the environment.

Laser produced texture
on an injection mold for
an automotive application.

Laser texturing offers greater precision and accuracy than chemical etching and takes the guess work out of texturing molds since the customer knows exactly what the product will look like before the laser applies the texture because it can be simulated on a computer.

Prima Power Laserdyne has developed a range of laser and processing parameters for a range of materials for 3D surface texturing, including medical device, consumer goods, and automotive. The parameters have been developed to create feature as small as 20 micrometers (0.0008 inch) (see figure at the right).