To further expand the laser application market, we need to identify new growth opportunities. Beyond the traditional applications of cutting, marking, and welding, laser cleaning has emerged as a promising growth area in recent years in the field of process applications.
Since the end of 2016, domestic companies have been at the forefront of launching medium-power pulse fiber laser cleaning machines, attracting significant attention from the industry and experiencing a surge in popularity over the past three years.
There are now dozens of companies in China involved in the production and research of laser cleaning equipment.
Many laser manufacturers also have high expectations for this field and are working to promote new, higher-powered pulse fiber lasers.
1. Application fields of laser cleaning
There is no doubt that those who are familiar with and have experienced the laser cleaning process can attest to its future potential for widespread use.
The process involves using high-frequency pulse light energy to remove rust and dirt from the surface of a workpiece by vaporizing it with high energy.
In comparison, traditional cleaning methods such as sand blasting, dry ice, mechanical polishing, acidic liquids, or chemical cleaning agents can easily lead to air and water pollution and may also cause harm to the human body.
Laser cleaning, on the other hand, can effectively vaporize pollutants and, with the use of adsorption and dust removal equipment, can achieve virtually zero pollution.
This makes it a highly efficient and environmentally-friendly cleaning method.
In the future, laser cleaning may bring about significant changes in the cleaning industry.
Principle of laser cleaning
The laser cleaning head emits a beam that is typically shaped like a horizontal bar. The beam cleans the surface it sweeps across.
This method is highly efficient and time-saving, making it ideal for cleaning large areas and removing rust and dirt from surfaces.
It can be used on a variety of surfaces, including ordinary metal plates, high-speed rails, rails, ships, molds, aircraft skins, engineering machinery, the petrochemical industry, mining, nuclear power, cultural relics, and weapons.
Customization is often necessary for specific cleaning scenarios, and regular cleaning and maintenance are required. The maintenance cycle is not too long, making it convenient to clean in batches.
For example, molds can become contaminated with engine oil during use or may rust when not in use. Given the large number of molds and the need for cleaning, this method is very useful.
Plastic molds and tire molds often have leftover materials that can slow down continuous production. Laser cleaning is an effective solution for removing these materials in a timely manner.
For example, rails that have been exposed to the air for an extended period can become rusty and need to be cleaned. Similarly, ships that require regular maintenance can use laser cleaning to keep their bodies in good condition.
Laser cleaning is easy to automate and can be integrated with intelligent systems. It can also be combined with gantries, manipulators, lifting platforms, and other supporting equipment to handle large-scale cleaning of workpieces.
The handheld cleaning head is also flexible and can clean workpieces from any direction.
Comparison of laser derusting
2. Challenges of laser cleaning
Despite its potential, laser cleaning hasn’t seen the sales volume that was expected. The businesses involved in laser cleaning have not experienced high demand for their products and services. Most of their customers are individuals who purchase or customize equipment on their own. This suggests that the market for laser cleaning has yet to fully form.
The promotion of laser cleaning has faced numerous challenges, causing the enthusiasm for it to cool after 2019. While laser cleaning has been popular in China for over two years, it hasn’t received much attention in Europe, America, Japan, and other countries.
One of the main reasons for this is the high cost of laser cleaning equipment. Although the technology has advanced, with laser cleaning equipment now available at kilowatt levels, the cost has decreased, but still remains at the level of 100,000 to hundreds of thousands of yuan.
In contrast, traditional cleaning methods are much cheaper, with dry ice cleaning equipment costing as little as 10,000 yuan. This makes it difficult for users to switch to laser cleaning, as the initial investment for equipment is substantial, especially for bulk purchases.
Secondly, the laser cleaning beam is directed at the surface of the workpiece, making it ideal for processing flat surfaces. However, this is also its limitation. Irregular shapes, such as corners and narrow spaces, can be difficult to clean with a laser. Cleaning the interior of a workpiece, such as the inner wall of a pipe, is even more challenging and can only be accomplished through full immersion pickling.
While laser cleaning is effective for removing rust, it may not be suitable for cleaning all types of dirt and grime, such as oil stains and semi-solid matter, that may be present on production equipment or products. Currently, research into laser cleaning for various types of dirt is insufficient.
At present, laser cleaning power can reach several kilowatts, but this does not necessarily equate to better cleaning. Further research is needed to determine if high-power beams can damage the surface of the workpiece and how to control the extent of the damage.
3. How to break the bottleneck in laser cleaning
In order to drive market growth, laser cleaning needs to invest more in process application research. Currently, the laser and cleaning equipment have been developed and are mature, but the process application is limited. As laser cleaning is only a few years into its promotion phase in China, its application scenarios are still limited.
It is predicted that the cost of laser cleaning will decrease as laser technology advances, making it more accessible to users. When the price-performance ratio becomes more favorable, the purchase volume is likely to increase.
However, many end users are still unaware of laser cleaning and it will take time to increase awareness through promotion and marketing efforts. The industry must work together to create a positive image and increase understanding of laser cleaning.