How to keep your staff safe when coding with Industrial Laser Marking Machines

  • By Jon Hall
  • November 19, 2016
  • Beverage
  • Food
  • Life Sciences
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Working with lasers of any kind - let alone higher-powered, industrial-grade laser markers - obviously comes with important safety implications. But did you know that getting proactive about laser safety can give your business a competitive advantage beyond keeping your staff safe? Here are some of the rules, regulations and safety recommendations you should be aware of.

Laser Light Radiation Warning Sign

What is laser printing?

From coding for medical equipment to complying with safety regulations food packaging, we live in a world with an ever-increasing onus on product traceability and identification. In the past few years, traceability has become expected - not only for industrial product tracking, but also for the end customer as well.  

Industrial Laser marking is a remarkably fast and efficient way to add both human and machine-readable text, graphics, variable and serialized data as well as 2D codes to a huge variety of substrates. Cartons, glass, wood, metal, plastic – you name it.

A permanent mark is left on the substrate by using a laser beam, guided by mirrors, to vaporize the surface layer of the material.

It’s a process that’s proven to be extremely environmentally-friendly it is completely free from inks and fluids that might have to be disposed of, or might result in coding issues due to condensation and other environmental factors.

Why should you care about laser safety?

Sure, you've heard the business case for Laser marking Machines as a whole, but we're here to talk about Safety. 

It turns out that committing to laser safety is about more than just avoiding fines and complying with regulations. Of course, the most important aspect of any laser safety policy is securing the well-being of your staff working with your laser marking equipment. When your employees can see that you are serious about preventing accidents and creating a safe working environment, there’s typically a boost on team morale.

Unintended - but excellent consequences

There are typically some good byproducts of instituting a new laser safety policy. A solid safety policy will save your company money by prolonging the lifespan of your equipment, prevent downtime and increase your operational efficiency.

Essentially, laser safety shouldn’t simply be seen as a frustrating and time-wasting health and safety box-ticking exercise, but an opportunity to boost team morale, protect your equipment and boost ROI.

What are laser classifications?

All lasers - whether industrial or your average, run-of-the-mill commercial pointers that you find at your corner store are categorized into four classes (and a number of subclasses). These classes and subclasses are based on wavelength and maximum output power. These classifications define a laser’s health risk to anyone exposed to optical radiation.

Class 1 & Class 4 Lasers

Lasers in Class 1 bear no optical radiation risks for humans because the laser radiation remains well below 25 microwatts. Exposure to Class 4 lasers, meanwhile, can result in serious eye injuries and burns to the skin. That’s why classification and the associated appropriate safety measures are so important. For example, Class 4 lasers must be equipped with a key switch and a safety interlock.

It’s the responsibility of the manufacturer to correctly classify the laser and apply the appropriate warning labels to the equipment. However it’s important to remember that the laser classification system does not take into account additional laser risks, such as electric shock, airborne contamination or fire.

How is laser guarding chosen?

As you would imagine, the basic job of laser guarding is to prevent employee exposure to optical radiation. Appropriate guarding is based on the strength of the industrial laser that you are working with.

As a general rule, laser guarding is opaque and metallic. If you need your guarding to be transparent, it must be made from acrylic or polycarbonate materials.

The thickness of the guard material depends on the amount of ‘burn through’ anticipated from the laser. Thickness of at least six millimeters is required for 10W and 30W laser systems, while 8 millimeters is recommended for 60W laser systems similar to our CO2 laser marking lineup.

The final things to consider are the orientation of your guarding and its distance from the laser. It’s crucial to prevent the beam reflecting directly back on to the laser as this will damage your equipment.

Risk analysis

The accepted framework for risk analysis regarding the use of your laser equipment is EN ISO 13849. It provides an iterative framework to assess machine risk and implement the necessary safety measures to mitigate against those risks, such as the installation of interlock switches. 

Stay safe, without the strain

Laser safety doesn’t have to be complicated – but it is important to get it right. Not only to avoid fines from breaching regulations, but to motivate your team, cut downtime, expand the lifespan of your equipment and run your coding operations as smoothly as possible.

Feel free to get in touch and see how you can take your production line to the next level.

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