July 5, 2022 

The History of Laser Marking in the Industrial Coding Field

The history of laser marking in the industrial coding field includes systems such as the Domino S100.

Over the last few decades, laser marking has become an increasingly integral part of the coding and marking industry. Fiber laser systems and CO2 laser systems, in particular, have grown in popularity across the industrial manufacturing and packaging spectrum. For companies that face strict traceability requirements (e.g. medical equipment manufacturers and chemical developers), laser systems provide the speed and code quality to efficiently comply with product marking regulations.

By all accounts, the laser marking market is experiencing intense growth, and today’s top marking and coding companies are responding to demand by continuously introducing new laser systems to their customers. 

Markem-Imaje, for example, just announced the release of a new 20w fiber laser system called the SmartLase F250. Similarly, Videojet recently expanded its laser portfolio by releasing a line of branded fume extractors under the name Videojet Xtract. Later this year, InkJet, Inc. is also expected to release a line of low-cost laser systems under the name FastJet. 

With all of these releases, it’s easy to forget that laser is a relatively new technology in industrial coding and marking. For example, while Videojet has been selling continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers since the 1960s, the company only began selling laser systems in the 1990s. 

Here, we examine the history of laser marking in the industrial coding field to see how laser marking systems became such a prominent part of the industry. 

The 1910s-1970s: A Long Period of Research and Development

The history of laser marking begins with a significant period of technological development, starting with the research of Albert Einstein. 

In 1917, Einstein developed the concept of “stimulated emission,” which is the process of using photons to stimulate atoms into emitting light in specific wavelengths. This concept essentially laid the groundwork for all laser systems to come. 

After Einstein’s initial research, scientists spent the next 40 years developing ways to implement the concept of stimulated emission into a viable tool. Notable developments during this period include:

Elias Snitzer next to the first fiber laser.
  • 1928: German atomic physicist Rudolf Landenberg reports indirect evidence of stimulated emission, but other physicists consider his research impractical.
  • 1940: Russian physicist Valentin A. Fabrikant proposes the idea that stimulated emission can be used in conjunction with gas discharges to amplify light. 
  • 1951: American physicist Charles H. Townes conceives that stimulated emission at microwave frequencies can produce coherent output when oscillated in a resonant cavity. 
  • 1954: Charles H. Townes and his student, James Gordon, use Townes’ idea to create a “maser” system (short for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) that produces a beam of coherent radiation.
  • 1957: Gordon Gould coins the term “laser” (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) based on Townes’ work and sketches the plan for a resonator.
  • 1960: Theodore Maiman creates the first viable optical laser.
  • 1963: Elias Snizter of American Optical in Southbridge, Massachusetts, along with his colleagues, build and operate the first fiber laser system.
  • 1964: Kumar Patel of AT&T Bell Labs develops the first CO2 laser system.
  • 1965: Eugene Watson launches Coherent Radiation Laboratories to build CO2 laser systems for commercial use.

By the 1970s, laser technology was advanced enough that companies were able to produce the first laser marking machines. However, it took until the 1990s for the coding and marking industry to fully embrace laser marking systems. 

The 1980s-2000s: The Beginning of the History of Laser Marking in the Industrial Coding Field

CO2 laser marking system profile from 1995.

As engineers developed laser technology throughout the 20th century, laser systems gradually became more powerful and capable of completing complicated tasks, including:

  • Creating highly-concentrated light beams.
  • Coding at complex angles.
  • Completing variable data marking applications.

By the early 1980s, companies like Synrad, Xymark, and Lumonix were developing increasingly sophisticated systems that were gaining the attention of industrial manufacturers and packaging groups across the world. These developments convinced industrial printing giants like Videojet and Markem-Imaje to view laser marking as the future of the coding industry. 

Markem-Imaje was the first of the major companies to realize the value of laser marking systems. To compete with Luminox, Markem-Imaje started financing its engineers to attend courses at universities like MIT in the 1980s. Later that decade, Domino and Videojet also began investing in their own internal laser departments. 

Moving into the 1990s, Markem-Imaje, Domino, and Videojet all entered the laser market with their own laser systems. High-profile companies like Anheuser-Busch and Nabisco began using these systems on their production lines with great success. 

The newly released laser systems provided these companies with the speed and reliability required to place expiration dates and tracking information on thousands of products per day. Many line operators at the time also commented on how the laser systems allowed them to extend overall uptime and eliminate routine maintenance. For example, Anheuser-Busch’s Corporate Director of Operations said the following about the Domino Digital Coder CO2 laser system in the December 1995 issue of Packaging Digest:

“This system has all of the positives of an ink-jet system—including variable data, automatic time and date changes—while eliminating some of the negatives associated with inks. It produces a reliable and clear code that reduces downtime and all other problems associated with expendables. And there’s none of the hazardous material handling, disposal, and flammability issues that exist with ink and solvents.”

With the aid of the Domino Digital Coder, Anheushur-Busch’s brewery in Cartersville, Georgia, was able to mark 2,100 cans per minute consistently. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, other laser success stories lead to the diverse laser marking market that we have today.

The 2010s-Present Day: Widespread Adoption Across Industries

Following the success of laser marking in the 1990s and 2000s, laser marking has become a staple of the coding and marking industry. All of the industry leaders and many of the smaller players now have laser options designed to meet the coding needs of specific industries, including:

  • Industrial food and beverage packaging.
  • Medical equipment manufacturing.
  • Pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drug production.
  • Aerospace and automotive part development.
  • Electrical component manufacturing.

Along with developing these industry-specific systems, coding and marking companies have been working to make marking technology more accessible and versatile by lowering overall system costs and expanding substrate compatibility. 

As coding and marking companies continue to make these improvements, we expect laser to gradually take more market share from inkjet printers. These factors—increased access, expanded applications, and growing popularity—are what we expect most from the laser marking market in the coming years.

Want to learn more about the history of laser marking? Stay connected to C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. With information on hardware, formulas, and other important marking topics, our newsletter will keep you updated on the latest industry developments. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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