A laser produces a very narrow beam of light that is useful in many technologies and instruments, and the letters in the word laser stand for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.
The history of laser marking dates back to the early 1960s when the first lasers were developed. During the early 1960s, Theodore Maiman was hard at work, inventing the first working laser using a synthetic ruby crystal. The idea was great, however, it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that laser marking began to emerge as a viable technology. Ultimately, advancements in laser technology, such as the development of CO2 lasers and solid-state lasers, would pave the way for practical applications of laser marking. While we use fiber lasers in our shop, it’s important to understand the role CO2 lasers have played during this course of industrial history.
In the 1970s and 1980s, laser marking gained popularity in industries such as the electronics and automotive industries. In the early days, laser marking systems utilized high-power CO2 lasers, which were effective in marking materials such as plastic, wood, and ceramics. These systems primarily used thermal marking methods, where the laser beam would heat the material, causing it to change color or create contrast for marking. But it wasn’t until the introduction of computer-controlled systems in the 1980s that the industry gained the ability to have greater precision and automation in the laser marking process.
Moving into the 1990s, this decade witnessed significant advancements in laser technology, with the emergence of more efficient and compact diode-pumped solid-state lasers. These lasers offered higher power levels and better beam quality, making them well-suited for laser marking applications. Additionally, the introduction of fiber lasers in the early 2000s brought further improvements in laser marking capabilities, offering even higher power densities and more precise control.
Today, laser marking has become an essential technology in a wide variety of industries. With advancements in laser sources, scanning systems, and control software, laser marking systems now offer exceptional precision, high-speed marking, and a wide range of marking effects such as annealing, carbon migration, coloring, and foaming. Laser marking has become a critical tool for permanent part identification, branding, traceability, and customization, and we’re excited to see what the next few decades will bring!
Want a deeper dive into history? Check out the timeline below for an overview of the industry’s biggest milestones, going back as early as 1917 when Albert Einstein established its foundations.
- 1917 – Stimulated emissions are discovered (Albert Einstein).
- 1957 – The theoretical framework for the laser is developed (Gordon Gould).
- 1960 – The first laser—a ruby laser—is constructed (Ted Maiman).
- 1960 – Continuous-wave laser beams are generated for the first time.
- 1960 – The term “fiber optics” is coined (Narinder Kapany).
- 1961 – Optical modes in glass fibers are invented (Elias Snitzer).
- 1962 – Q-switching, a technique to generate pulsed laser beams, is demonstrated (Robert W. Hellwarth and R.J. McClung).
- 1963 – The first fiber laser is demonstrated (Elias Snitzer).
- 1964 – A method is discovered to remove impurities from glass fibers, and hence limit light loss (Charles Kao and George Hockham).
- 1988 – The first double-clad fiber laser is demonstrated (Elias Snitzer).
- 1990 – The watt barrier is broken with a 4W erbium-doped fiber laser.
- 2004 – The single-mode silica fiber laser and amplifier is invented (David N. Payne).