Laser Systems for the Aerospace Industry

The aerospace industry’s need for absolute precision pushes it to discover new and efficient ways to manufacture thousands of parts with virtually no tolerance variation. Elimination of bad pieces, production down time, and employee error are paramount in meeting budget targets, and federal and international specifications. CMS Laser provides industry leading solutions for these aerospace laser applications.

Wire Marking

Aerospace Wire Marking

According to SAE AS50881, wire for Aerospace use must be marked every three inches. Lasers provide a high quality, high contrast, permanent, non-contact method for marking wire and cable with alphanumeric characters, graphics or barcode information for identification, meeting the SAE A550881 standard.

These marking systems are a reliable, clean, high speed, low maintenance alternative to non-permanent and high-maintenance methods such as direct ink or hot stamping. Unlike hot stamping, laser wire marking does not cause damage or change to the electrical or mechanical properties of the wire and will not wear off due to solvents or friction. It maintains complete insulation integrity and is accepted as a manufacturing process within the international aerospace industry.

How Laser Wire Marking Works

Ultra violet (UV) laser wire marking is accomplished by the absorption of the radiation on the surface of the insulation that creates a reaction with the UV-sensitive pigments known as titanium dioxide or TiO2. This reaction causes the TiO2 particles that are contained within the insulation to change colors by rearranging their crystalline structure on a microscopic scale, leaving a high contrast blackish color on white insulation. The mark is embedded about 20 microns (0.0008 inch) into the insulation surface, creating a durable mark with resistance against abrasion and fluids.

Advantages of Laser Marking Aerospace Wire & Cable

CMS Laser’s systems for marking wire and cable are common in several industries and offer several advantages to Aerospace, in particular. They include:

  • On-the-Fly – Developed by CMS Laser, On-the-Fly marking allows throughput in excess of 120″ per second.
  • Permanence – The laser mark is a color change to the insulation, resistant to removal, and does not weaken either the insulation or conductive material.
  • Simple Marking Changes – Mark text and graphics in various fonts and sizes, vertically or horizontally, with no masking. Load mark from the job/assembly file, or from an MES system over a network connection.
  • Multiple Wire Sizes – Easily mark wire and cable in gauges from 6-26
  • Multiple Wire Types – The system can work with flat, round, twisted pair, single core, multi-core and coaxial, among others.
  • Multiple Insulation Materials – While and colored insulation material can be marked with our systems, including PTFE, ETFE, XLETFE, and FEP.

Other features include infinite text lengths, infinite variable end mark distances, and infinite variable continuous mark distances. Identical text marking or optional programmable text for each end of the wire can also easily be accomplished. With the serialization option set, the date code and time stamp can automatically be marked on each wire for tracking purposes. UV laser marking is the specified method used in civil and military programs of aircraft manufacturers and their subcontractors, maintenance organizations and wire manufacturers worldwide.

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Wire Stripping

Aerospace Wire Stripping

Perhaps no lengths of wire have more riding on them than those used in the Aerospace industry. Clearly, failure is not an option and the many required specs that must be adhered to ensure that each strand can withstand service times that stretch into decades. The insulation used on aerospace wire and cable is the most durable in the world, and must endure extreme temperatures at both ends of the spectrum, high voltages, vibration, and more. These strengths also make them a challenge to strip.

A number of wire stripping methods proved their mettle over the years, including mechanical means with blades and cutters, and chemical or heat-based methods. For some insulators, the most effective manner of removing them was by hand using a knife blade. However, each has significant risk of damaging the conductive material, and that damage eliminates the wire from use on board aircraft.

Enter laser wire and cable stripping. Using laser wavelengths absorbed by the insulator, but reflected by the metal conductor, this non-contact method now dominates the aerospace wire industry. After being cut by the laser, the insulation can subsequently be pulled off very easily at a later time. This is unquestionably the most precise and reliable stripping method available today.

Aerospace Stripping System Capabilities

Our system strips a wide variety of insulation materials, such as enameled coatings, epoxy, ETFE, fiberglass, Formvar, Kapton, Kynar, Milene, Mylar, nylon, silicone, polyester, polyesterimide, polyethylene, polyimide, polyvinylidene fluoride, polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride, and Teflon. It removes insulation from most types of wire and cable including single-core, twin leads, shielded twisted pairs, multi-conductor, shielded and screened, ribbon cable, coaxial cable, and complex 2D and 3D-shaped conductors such as coils.

In addition, a wide range of sizes can be processed without requiring tool changes. Sizes can range from 28 gauge to 6 gauge (14mm OD max). Ribbon and flat cable can be up to 11.4 inches wide. In addition, a variety of modes allows slugs to remain on the strands, mid-wire (window) stripping capabilities, on-the-fly stripping options and excellent precision.

There are an infinite number of variable stripping lengths from 0 to the full length of the wire on various insulation types, without damage to the conductor. Stripping of shielded twisted pairs down to the shielding without damage to shielding is possible. Various stripping modes are available to ensure slugs remain on strands.

With CMS Laser’s wire strippers there are no disposal issues of hazardous chemicals, costly blades to replace or sharpen at regular intervals, or high electrical currents with which to contend. Laser wire stripping provides outstanding levels of quality, reliability and productivity in addition to meeting the high standards for conductor damage set by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Also Note:

Wire Cutting ~

  • Long life blades (for cutting to length)
  • Straight perpendicular cuts
  • Wire lengths from 1.5 inches to unlimited
  • Wire length accuracy to within +/- 0.100 inches at wire lengths of 240 inches

Software ~

  • Backend database storage of wire data
  • Local or network databases capability (for multi-system sites)
  • Simultaneous multi-user login to database (for administration and wire data management)
  • Extensive logging capability for metering wire production
  • Simple touch-screen interface for system operation
  • Capable of job files in excess of 100,000 wires in a single job
  • Pause and resume feature

Reliability ~

  • Solid base frame support all optical and laser components
  • Solid optical train (no optical alignments required)

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Aerospace Welding

Building aircraft and space vehicles does not leave room for weld defects. Distortion, cracks, and porosity all lead to failure in the highly stressed metals of an airplane. Zero defect welding is difficult to achieve with today’s alloys. Even welding aluminum, which accounts for some 70% of today’s civilian aircraft, can be difficult outside of a vacuum.

Strength without weight is a never-ending pursuit in the industry. Computer modeling is helping design parts where material is moved away from low stress areas and toward those facing the most stress, and often where using multiple materials helps achieve strength/weight goals. This can mean welding of many alloys of aluminum, titanium, and steel. More exotic materials are also finding frequent use, but must undergo a converting process before laser welding.

The size of aerospace parts can range from large panels and support pieces to small engine components and device housings. Fortunately, a system using a single laser source can often be adjusted between deep penetrating and mechanically strong welds to narrow hermetic seals.

Advantages of Laser Welding for Aerospace

Several factors make lasers the perfect tool for the job.

  • Easily controlled process parameters give excellent repeatability from weld to weld
  • Greatly reduced heat input means less heat transfer to the surrounding metal and less distortion at the weld seam and throughout the parts.
  • Consistent energy to the weld spot provides excellent speed (as high as 200″/min), thermal control (eliminating voids and pockets), and seam quality (often eliminating the need for secondary finishing).
  • Deeper penetrating welds (by as much as 2x) and better weld aspect ratios allow deep welds while affecting less of the parts.

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Aerospace Marking

Modern aircraft are comprised of millions of individual parts. For example, there are three million non-fastener parts in the average 747. The wire marking tab already addresses the 171 miles of wire found on the plane, but there are millions of other parts that require marking. The cabin and cockpit are full of backlit plastic parts. Mechanical systems are full of metal and ceramic parts requiring permanently marked codes, serial numbers, and other identifiers. It would be harder to find parts that need no marking than those that do.

The use of lasers for backlit plastic panels is widespread in the aerospace, automotive, and consumer products industries. The beam creates the mark in one of two ways. Most commonly it ablates a layer of plastic or coating from the surface of the part, exposing the clear or translucent plastic underneath. There are also some plastics that are built with additives that change color when a certain wavelength is applied to them. In this case, the plastic color changes under the laser beam, and alters the part in this manner.

Advantages of Laser Marking for Aerospace

Whether marking codes on parts for easy or required identification, or ablating layers off of plastic parts, or any of the many other marking needs found in commercial or military aerospace technology, laser marking systems excel in speed, precision, permanence, cost savings, and more.

High speed galvos direct the laser beam during marking and, in some cases, are capable of thousands of characters per second. The beams are capable of achieving extraordinary accuracy, marking 2D codes inside the slots of small screws, for example, and can maintain tolerances of >10 microns, if necessary. Because the material itself is physically changed during the process, marks cannot be easily worn away through use, abrasive matter, or atmospheric conditions such as high heat or immersion in liquid. And because lasers have no mechanical contact with parts, and either ablate or change the structure of the material to mark it, there are no tooling setups, no bit or blade sharpening, and no waste to clean from the production area.

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