The Evolution and History of Laser Marking and Engraving

On our news page, we like to regularly highlight new technologies, trends, and innovations, but we also like to look back at key points in manufacturing history to show how far the field has come.

For this post, we thought we’d take a look at the history of laser marking and engraving, addressing the technological leaps that were needed to bring the processes about. Give it a look!

The Creation of Lasers

The history of laser engraving begins with the story of the first lasers. Let’s examine some of the key developments:

  • Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow invented the “maser” in 1954, which stands for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. This breakthrough led them to propose the creation of a more advanced form of technology they dubbed a laser, or light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, in 1958. The pair then wrote a scientific paper outlining its theoretical operation, helping to inspire numerous scientists.
  • In 1960, Theodore Maiman invented the first ruby laser, now considered the first viable optical laser in existence.
  • In 1958, however, Gordon Gould also began work on a laser, with historians often now crediting him as the inventor of the original laser light. Gould was unable to secure a patent on his device in time, leading to a patent rejection, which gave opportunities to other companies and scientists. Though Gould did ultimately receive a belated patent in 1977.
  • In 1965, the first laser to be crafted for manufacturing was developed by Western Electric for the purpose of drilling holes within diamond dies.
  • Focused CO2 laser beams for laser cutting were first introduced in 1967, with researchers at Boeing leading the charge in developing the technology in the ensuing years, leading to a modern CO2 laser cutter in 1975.

All of these advances factored into the history of laser engraving and eventually paved the way for laser marking and laser engraving systems to be developed and incorporated into a wide range of industries.

Other Forms of Marking and the Rise in Bar Codes and Serialization

Of course, laser marking isn’t the only form of product marking, but as we’ve outlined before, laser marking outperforms other methods such as dot peen, electrochemical, and inkjet.

All of these forms of marking, however, including laser marking, have greatly been impacted by the advent of bar codes and serialization. Without these codes, product marking would be much more limited and certain forms of marking might not have been developed or been seen as necessary or valuable.

Let’s examine some key points on serialization, as it’s key to fully understanding the history of laser engraving and marking.

  • Prior to the implementation of bar codes, stores had no reliable way to keep track of their products to know how much of an item was being sold or how often new orders needed to be made. This particularly impacted the grocery industry since the time from acquiring a product to selling it can often be much quicker than in many other fields.
  • In 1932, punch cards were briefly considered to keep track of which items were being purchased and when, but the idea was dropped as it proved too expensive and complicated.
  • By 1948, though, graduate student Bernie Silver learned of the grocery tracking problem and relayed it to his teacher, Norman Woodland. The teacher experimented with various data collection techniques for the next two years, eventually landing on a modified Morse code to create the first, rudimentary barcodes.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, similar code systems were developed by David Collins of the railway industry to keep track of railcars, and these systems employed colored lights and sensors to read information.
  • Collins altered his work in the 1960s to incorporate laser beams, producing the first modern barcode scanners and paving the way for the technology we know today.
  • It took some years of testing and perfecting, but barcodes were finally ready for the commercial market in 1974 and were first utilized by a grocery store to scan a 10-pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum.
  • By 1984, 33% of grocery stores had adopted barcodes. By the end of the century, the technology would be essentially ubiquitous within grocery stores and retail outlets.

The Rise of Laser Engraving and Laser Marking

As barcodes spread, lasers weren’t just utilized for the reading of product information, but also in this information’s creation. With new advances in technology, lasers began to be able to mark or engrave materials to create barcodes, serial numbers, 2D codes, UDI codes, logos, designs, and more.

Let’s take a look at the key points in the history of laser engraving and marking to discover how we got to today.

  • In the 1970s, in an effort to improve the then-popular computerized engraving machines, Bill Lawson of LMI began to experiment with the viability and possibilities for laser engraving.
  • Prior to Lawson, a company called Laser Craft had developed some primitive laser engraving technologies, but their systems necessitated the use of stencils and in effect “sandblasted” the material with a laser beam. These stencils were also difficult to control.
  • The system Lawson landed on, however, scanned black and white artwork, information, or designs, engraving either the white or black part, depending on operator desire, which greatly improved the end result.
  • During the 1970s, Electrox emerged as the first laser company to develop and manufacture a commercial fast axial flow CO2 laser, helping to advance the field and establish Electrox as a key source for laser marking systems.
  • Technology, and specifically computerized systems, significantly advanced by the 1980s and 1990s, which led to computers being directly integrated into laser engraving systems.
  • These advancements then led to drops in price, making laser systems more economical than ever before. While many companies had previously seen the value in the technology, price was a concern, but the modern systems of the 1990s and onward were a more practical investment for many operations.
  • In 2001, TYKMA Technologies is formed, eventually becoming TYKMA and merging with Electrox. The new company, TYKMA Electrox, stands as a fully integrated worldwide organization offering efficient and modern MOPA fiber laser systems.

Contact TYKMA Electrox!

Now that you know the key points for the history of laser marking and engraving, and the technologies that helped the processes to advance, we hope you have a better understanding of and appreciation for the industry.

If you have any questions about our efficient laser marking and engraving systems, be sure to contact us today, because our team is always ready to help!

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