Fiber laser cleaning is the process by which a surface is cleaned by having any impurities, oxides, dust, oil or other materials removed. This is done by using a laser with high repetition rates and high peak powers, but in short, pulses, so as to not damage the substrate that is being worked with.
The aim is simply to remove any contaminated layers and clean the surface underneath quickly and with minimal heat output. This is done using laser irradiation, and so makes it a similar process to laser ablation. There are various methods cleaning a surface with a laser, and we explore this further below, as well as the various cleaning applications.
The fiber laser cleaning process
There are two very different ways of delivering the cleaning, the process that you choose will depend on the results that you wish to achieve.
The first process involves coating removal and is simply the removal of a layer on the surface of the object you are working with (e.g. rust). The layer that you are removing will be different to that of the object underneath, both physically and chemically, meaning that the laser will have no thermal, chemical or mechanical effect on the substrate itself. Examples include paint or rubbing coatings.
The second process is laser surface decontamination, which involves the removal of layers that are much more deeply embedded within the object that you are working with. Therefore, you will need to remove layers of the substrate itself. An example would be removing radioactive concrete layers.
This cleaning method involves a non-contact and non-abrasive approach with no chemicals or solvents being used. It can also be automated using robots and conducted on a large or small scale. These cost-effective and environmentally-friendly benefits make laser-based cleaning extremely useful as it maximises efficiency and safety while reducing waste.
The applications for fiber laser cleaning
Due to the wide number of benefits listed above this cleaning method can be used and applied to many different industries for use with materials such as metal, ceramics, plastics, concrete, glass and more. We explore some of the application areas for laser-based cleaning next:
Paint removal & de-Coating
This cleaning process can be used to remove the paint or the coating from a surface, either partially, fully, or on a selective area, whether the surface has been finished with an organic, chemically oxidised or anodised surface. This could be used for things such as de-coating solar panels, or removing paint in the aerospace or automobile industries, all while maintaining the integrity of the primer substance.
Preparation treatment for adhesive bonding and coating
Fiber lasers can also be used to prepare surfaces for adhesive bonding or coating, such as for welding or brazing. This application will clean the surface of any lubricants, contaminants, grease, traffic film, oils, or some other substance, meaning the objects are ready to be worked with. This is useful for industries such as automotive, ship-building or the manufacturing of precision tools.
Labelling and marking
Cleaning can also be used to ablate metal and plastic surfaces to leave a label or mark beneath. This is a highly efficient approach as a surface can be cleaned and labelled in one process, rather than the need for a multi-step approach that other conventional methods entail. This is useful for something like the creation of barcodes on an object.
Artwork and stonework restoration
In the art world, lasers can be used in the precision cleaning of precious artworks, the non-contact process being particularly beneficial. Similarly, the process is also ideal for cleaning statues and monuments, which get dirty over time, particularly when situated outdoors.
Mould cleaning and de-oiling
An additional cleaning application is mould cleaning and de-oiling. This is useful for industries such as food manufacturing where the fiber laser can be used to clean baking trays.