Laser Technology
Tuesday | 16 May, 2017 | 12:40 pm

Clean coverage

By Gretchen Salois

Marred material can lead to inaccurate results

May 2017 - Impurities in metal surfaces before cutting can throw off a laser’s precision or tolerance capabilities. Failing to take into account material preparation before running through a laser cutter cancels out the expected precision as well as the carefully considered capital investment.

At Fonon Technologies, Orlando, Florida, technology to remove hazardous chemicals and other elements from alloys before cutting led to the release of its CleanTech product line in 2007. 

“We’ve reintroduced this technology in 2017 to address both customer feedback and [a void] in the marketplace,” says Wayne Tupuola, director and vice president of operations. The newly released CleanTech is a surface laser cleaning and conditioning system. Using Flexion technology, the system helps remove rust, paint, anodization and other surface materials in areas that are typically difficult to reach. 

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Laser cleaning material ensures impurities do not throw off tolerance and accuracy.

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Fonon likens its Flexion technology to the sun’s rays. Imagine the sun and the direction of its rays hitting an object at noon. The rays either hit the object directly over the top, or depending on the object’s angle, will hit the side most directly exposed to the rays, leaving other areas in shadow. CleanTech systems clean in more than one direction, combing the surface using a trajectory beam path. One hundred percent of all surfaces, no matter the angle, are cleaned. 

The CleanTech Megacenter with Flexion technology offers a motion control stage that operates in both X and Y axes, fostering an ability to move in various directions and clean nested parts beneath the trajectory beam path.

“The cost of mitigating hazardous chemical issues outweighs the cost of a Laser Ablation [CleanTech] process,” Tupuola says. Laser ablation is the process of irradiating solid or liquid surfaces to remove material, and is more cost effective than other methods, he adds.

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Designing safety features into CleanTech was crucial. Its failsafe, contact-lock front doors and Class 1 operator-safe viewing point keep users on the floor, away from exposure to harmful materials. A fume extractor exhaust outlet is included.

The machine can withstand shock, vibration and dust. It removes unwanted dirt or debris, rust and scale, and more, from the surfaces of aluminum, carbon and stainless steels, cast iron, chrome, titanium, copper, brass, nickel, coated metals, and nonmetallics including carbon fiber-reinforced polymer.

Three sizes

The American-made machine is intended for use in multiple industries, including paint and epoxy material removal for aviation parts, removal of contaminants from metal surfaces for weld preparation, and corrosion removal—it can also degrease surfaces, such as oil on flanges for drill and line pipe fixtures. The unit offers Class 1 safety enclosures for Class 4 strength lasers and allows for a 3D scanner option to clean parts with complex shapes.

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CleanTech laser surface preparation and cleaning system removes rust, paint, anodization and other surface materials in areas that are typically difficult to reach.

The CleanTech Megacenter and Titan models can operate as a standalone turnkey unit or can be integrated into a production line. The Titan platform can be configured for beds up to 6 feet by 13 feet. The smaller CleanTech Handheld allows operators in the field or on the factory floor to apply the system. Between the Megacenter, Titan and Handheld, each CleanTech model complies with OSHA, FDA and CDRH “push a button” laser safety industrial operation. 

A handheld solution addresses the need to be mobile and stationary units offer a more automated approach. “If a shipbuilder or military ordinance requires a UID or serialization mark, these types of end users would appreciate the handheld unit,” he says. “If the end user prefers a more automated approach, then we have stationary systems that allow the end user to place their part on a presenter, push the button and walk away.”

Cost comparison

Contrasted with other methods of paint removal, such as by CO2 laser, CleanTech costs less, Tupuola says. Technologies common for taking paint off an aircraft skin, for example, “are CO2 laser technologies developed 30 years ago by the U.S. Air Force.” This method requires a high cost of ownership, including gas and power consumption, consumable items, maintenance and repair, and tooling. “These costs only occur when the machine is operating, as well as for maintenance, whereas the high-power fiber laser technology offers less maintenance and a low cost of ownership,” he claims.

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Fonon’s CleanTech system can remove paint and epoxy material for aviation parts, remove contaminants from metal surfaces for weld preparation, and corrosion removal—it can also degrease surfaces, such as oil on flanges for drill and line pipe fixtures.

Depending on the application and material, users can determine which laser to use and the speed in which to use it. “The ultimate results can be determined by physics—the amount of energy applied to specific material equals work performed,” Tupuola explains.

CleanTech equipment is designed so that inexperienced operators can readily work with it. “We pre-program a variety of laser sweep patterns according to customer requirements so the operator selects a pattern and presses a button to start the cleaning process.” That task will be completed “in a matter of seconds or minutes, depending on the features and the size of the parts,” he says.

Fonon claims its CleanTech system rates a mean time before failure (MTBF) at 100,000 hours. 

The non-abrasive cleaning process is safe and ecologically friendly, which Tupuola says is “a distinct advantage over costly traditional methods such as chemicals or abrasive blasting systems, which have a negative environmental impact, hazardous fumes, or can wear the substrate of the alloy and damage the material.” MM

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