Industrial application of lasers isn’t limited to metal, glass and semiconductors. Laser technology also gains ground in the processing of textiles, leather, paper and wood.
The connection between lasers and tailor-made suits isn’t an obvious one. And laser technology isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of jeans, T-shirts or leather shoes, jackets, sofas and chairs. In fact, CO2 lasers from Luxinar Ltd. are increasingly used in the tailoring of leather and textiles and the structuring of certain designs.
Whether it’s leather, cotton, polyester, silk, neoprene, felt, nylon or fleece: wherever lasers are used to do the cutting, it is possible to create highly intricate patterns quickly and in reproducible quality, cut edges don’t fray and the environmental impact is reduced. These advantages aren’t just useful in the fashion and furniture industries, but for car manufacturers too. They count on lasers to cut fabric and leather seat covers, seatbelts and textile roof linings and carpets to the right size.
Even in the increasingly automated clothing industry, CO2 lasers are essential. Cutting fabric in a way that is at once flexible, highly precise and extremely fast accelerates cycles and minimizes waste. If customers take measurements with a 3D scanner, the digital datasets can be transferred directly to CAD systems and translated into those patterns, which the Luxinar Laser can then cut from the material. Digital supply chains make tailored fashion possible at a fraction of the cost and much faster than previous manual processes.
But lasers aren’t only used for cutting. Manufacturers of jeans use laser systems to create color shading and patterns on fabrics. Scanner-controlled laser beams flit over the jeans at lightning speed and remove color pigments. The desired design effects are achieved by varying the intensity – without chemicals or dust and without damaging the fabric’s texture. Lasers play an equally important role in decorating T-shirts using heat transfer printing. In leather processing too, the applications range from encoding the animal skins for track and trace solutions right through to cutting, and decorative and functional changes. Selective micro-structuring of the outer layers, for instance, can be used to achieve gloss or matte effects. The environmental benefits of laser processes can even be felt in leather processing: compared to traditional methods, water usage is reduced by up to 80% and there is no use of aggressive chemicals.
Laser marking also provides traceability in the food industry. Slaughterhouses, for instance, use CO2 lasers to equip beef and pork with barcodes for track and trace systems. Modern laser technology also improves the shelf life of perishable goods. Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) minimizes decay and oxidation. The packaging film needs specifically adjusted ventilation depending on how much the packaged goods “breathe”. Laser systems can also achieve this task by perforating the packaging with tiny ventilation holes barely visible to the human eye over the course of the packaging process.
Packaging manufacturers also use laser technology to process and mark paper, cardboard, foil and wood. This is sometimes done in a roundabout way. For example, when lasers are used for the highly precise engraving of the printing plates and impression cylinders that apply decorative and informative prints onto the packaging. Or when CO2 laser cutting tools from manufacturers such as Trotec cut and perforate packaging with complex designs. Lasers are also used to mark labels and products with individual serial numbers or QR codes. Modern CO2 lasers apply these to the material using invisible infrared beams with wavelengths between 9.3 and 10.6 µm long, at speeds of up to 1,200 characters per second. The human eye can’t keep up. Hence, process controls are also left to photonics: monitoring is carried out by imaging systems.