Good for both people and the environment

Jean-Paul Nicolet from GF Machining Solutions knows the advantages of laser technology, especially for texturing PET bottles.

Laser texturing has revolutionized the way molds are processed. The customers of GF Machining Solutions, such as Custom Etch Inc., are not only saving up to 50 percent time when processing individual items but are also reducing the use of chemical substances.

At the beginning of 2011, the Custom Etch Inc. facility in New Castle (Pennsylvania) was still operating on traditional lines. Employees with protective clothing and face masks were working manually on the molds. “That has changed significantly,” affirms Donald Melonio, Vice-President of Custom Etch. Seven years ago, the texturing and engraving specialist still exclusively used chemical etching to treat molds. The company now uses six ultra-modern laser machines from GF Machining Solutions that speed up the production process. “Every year, we engrave between 3’000 and 4’000 individual molds for the production of PET bottles, car lighting elements, and fiberglass doors,” explains Donald Melonio. “Today, 35 percent of our orders are processed with laser machines from GF Machining Solutions.” Chemical etching is still used for the other 65 percent. “Six laser machines are not enough right now to process our monthly volume of orders,” elaborates Donald Melonio. “But our aim is to add further laser capacity to our production.”

Jean-Paul Nicolet from Laser-Business Development & Market Support at GF Machining Solutions in Geneva has looked after Custom Etch since 2011.

Custom Etch’s clients include the major US beverage companies and bottlers as well as their mold makers. In early 2010, when the company faced a challenge to apply a geometric style texture to PET bottles for Pepsi brands, Custom Etch discovered laser texturing. “This was a very challenging project. We could have achieved the desired result manually by etching, but the labor cost and time would have been prohibitive”, Donald Melonio remembers. “Our search brought us to the GF Machining Solutions laser technology portfolio, and we purchased our first machine to fill the Pepsi order.”

Donald Melonio, Vice-President of Custom Etch: “We have evolved from a 100 percent manual process to an automated process that ensures 100 percent perfection.”

The texturing and engraving specialist uses six ultra-modern laser machines from GF Machining Solutions.

Laser technology is completely changing the way engraving and texturing companies work.

Today, a great share of the production is fully digitalized and automated–from product design to the finished mold.

Every year, Custom Etch engraves between 3’000 and 4’000 individual molds for the production of PET bottles.

25 percent less chemical substances

Jean-Paul Nicolet from Laser-Business Development & Market Support at GF Machining Solutions in Geneva has looked after Custom Etch since then. “Laser technology is completely changing the way engraving and texturing companies work,” Nicolet points out. “Today, production processes – from product design to the finished mold – are fully digitalized and automated. Meanwhile, virtually everything product designers want can be realized.” In addition, the GF Machining Solutions laser machines process the molds much quicker and more accurately than it would be possible manually. Donald Melonio confirms that his clients get the finished molds back in half the time previously required. “The labor costs previously involved in masking, applying patterns and acid etching molds have been significantly reduced.” What makes him particularly happy is the reduction of chemical substances. “The use of chemicals is down 25 percent since laser technology was introduced,” says Melonio.

“Thanks to laser technology our use of chemicals has dropped significantly.”

Donald Melonio Vice President von Custom Etch Inc. (USA)

Today, Custom Etch is GF Machining Solutions’ second-biggest customer in the field of laser texturing. The production area at the New Castle facility has doubled with the purchase of the laser machines and the associated conversion to the innovative environmentally friendly technology. In 2017, Custom Etch also had four of its GF machines fitted with a more powerful laser, each one now operating at 100 rather than 50 watts. Because of this upgrade, each machine can process twice as many pieces in the same amount of time.

Laser technology is gaining ground

Jean-Paul Nicolet also works with other clients in the field of laser texturing. Despite the high investment costs of up to several hundred thousand Swiss francs for each laser machine, he sees a worldwide shift to the modern, more efficient, and more environmentally-friendly technology. The mold processing company Tian Zhi Zun (TZZ) in Suzhou (China), for example, uses four Laser P 4000 U machines and has switched all its production for clients from the automotive, electronics, consumer goods and aerospace industries from chemical etching to laser technology. “In China, there are sometimes high taxes and levies imposed on procedures involving chemical substances. As a result, there is naturally a great deal of pressure and motivation for change,” says Nicolet. He has also noticed that many companies are interested in environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques such as laser technology of their own accord. “Especially for production facilities, the topic of sustainability is getting more and more important.”

This is how chemical etching and laser texturing work:

Chemical etching uses chemicals to dissolve unprotected parts of a metal mold to produce a predefined structure or engraving. Precise manual work is required in the multistage process. After cleaning the mold, synthetic resin or protective lacquer is applied as acid protection. This protection is then removed using needles, styluses or scalpels on the areas to be etched. Wax print or multi-layer films are applied to these places to transfer the pattern. The desired engraving is created in the subsequent acid bath, where the material surface is removed from the unprotected areas. After the bath, the piece is intensively cleaned, rinsed off, and polished.

By contrast, fully digital 3D laser engraving offers more design options, greater safety, and a higher level of quality. The technology allows almost unlimited design options for individual surfaces, such as molds for automotive parts, entertainment electronics, packaging, tool and mold making, or shoes and sports items. A 5-axis laser applies the pattern directly to the mold surface, which means there is no need to use or dispose of chemical substances.

The international texturing and engraving specialist Custom Etch Inc. is member of GLG (Global Laser Group) and of SEC (Surface Etching Cooperation).