If you are looking for an efficient and accurate way to remove rust from your equipment and parts, laser rust removal is the way to go.
But what exactly is laser rust removal, and what are the different factors to consider when performing laser rust removal?
Laser rust removal is the process of using a high-intensity laser (generally fiber laser) to vaporize the rust from the surface of the workpiece without damaging the base metal, thereby restoring the workpiece and preventing it from further damage. Generally, a 50W galvo laser is ideal for small-scale applications.
This article discusses laser rust removal in detail by going through the process, its cost, applications, advantages, etc.
In the end, I've also discussed the best laser rust removal machines and talked about the difference between laser rust removal and sandblasting.
What's in this article?
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What is Laser Rust Removal?
A laser rust removal machine mainly comprises a laser head, laser source, fibers, a control panel, and a chiller system.
Each of these components function in synchronization for performing laser removal.
When switched on, the laser source transmits the laser through fiber cables to the laser head, passing through a lens to the desired workspace area.
Upon the laser’s contact with the workpiece surface, the rust and dirt on the external surface sublimates and vaporize into the air, leaving behind a clean surface free from rust.
The energy of the laser is to be controlled in such a way that it only vaporizes the unwanted material without damaging the base metal of the workpiece.
Then the vaporized rust is then sucked into a vacuum chamber through a nozzle housed within the laser rust removal machine.
How Much Does a Laser Rust Remover Cost?
A laser rust remover’s cost can vary depending on the specifications and scope of application.
Large-scale industrial-scale laser rust removers can cost as high as $100,000, as every component is automated and highly durable.
On the other hand, small-scale portable handheld models can cost around $5,000, but provide a significantly lower laser power, slower scanning speed, and smaller scanning area.
The most expensive components of this machine are the laser source and the laser head, followed by the cooling system and the fiber cables.
Programmed microcontrollers that enable automation of the process on industrial-scale machines also make up a large proportion of the total cost.
Advantages of Laser Rust Removal
Laser rust removal possesses multiple advantages.
Clean Surface Finish
The laser beam removes the rusted external surface, leaving behind a clean and smooth surface.
Along with rust, it removes any traces of oil, coatings, dirt, or damaged paint, improving the surface texture and restoring it to its former self.
Moreover, it improves the hardness of the workpiece by inducing thermal stresses, improving the adhesion capability of the workpiece, and making it easier to paint or coat the surface afterward.
Ease of Automation
The automated versions of laser rust removal machines utilize programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that automate every step of rust removal.
In them, the user only needs to enter the commands and parameters on a control panel, after which the whole rust removal process on the workpiece is automatically performed, eliminating any manual labor.
This aspect also improves the accuracy and efficiency of the complete process.
No abrasive chemicals or solvents are used in this process, due to which no hazardous waste is produced, resulting in an environmentally safer process.
Due to no surface contact between the rusted workpiece and the laser removal equipment, no friction results, because of which there is no noise pollution or chip formation that are difficult to dispose of and handle.
The vaporized rust is extracted into a fume management system, thus eradicating any adverse effects on human health or process safety.
Laser Rust Remover is Safe to Use
From an operator safety point of view, there are no moving parts or hazardous emissions, thus rendering the laser rust removal process safe.
However, hand-held laser heads should be carefully handled, keeping them away from the human body as they may cause burns.
Industrial-level automated machines eradicate the possibility of burns by controlling the complete process without any manual intervention.
Low Maintenance Costs
Except for high initial capital and electricity costs, these machines require minimum maintenance, thereby saving valuable time and money.
As a result, it is best suited for industrial applications where long maintenance break-downs are not affordable.
Applications of Laser Rust Remover
A laser rust remover has mainly three applications.
Pre-Coating Treatment With Laser Cleaning
Oxides or contaminants can weaken coatings and paintings, making them ineffective.
Laser rust removal removes rust and eliminates oil, grease, or dirt particles, smoothening and cleaning the surface of the workpiece.
As a result, you can effectively coat or paint your surface to achieve a smooth and uniform coating with excellent adhesion.
It is an excellent alternative to sandblasting before powder coating, as sandblasting produces high noise levels, and the sand particles can be dangerous for the operator if inhaled.
Pre- and Post-Welding Treatment
The ability of a laser rust remover to vaporize any containments from the surface of the workpiece makes it ideal for preparing the surface of the workpiece for welding.
It ensures that no porosities or contaminants entrap in the welding, resulting in an accurate weld with no defects.
Thus, the resulting welds have a high yield strength, tensile strength, ductility, and fatigue life, making them durable.
Apart from that, laser rust removal can also be used to clean the charr from the surface of the workpiece produced during the welding operation.
Rust and Paint Removal
You can utilize laser rust removal even when you want to restore old rusted components or improve their current working condition.
The automobile industry uses this process for removing rust from rotor discs, shafts, vehicle bodies, and gears.
Moreover, the aerospace industry employs this process for removing rust from airplane wings, engine exhaust, or any other part of the external body.
The construction industry utilizes laser rust removal for restoring rusted columns, beams, pipes, or rods for continued use.
Apart from that, these machines can also be used to remove paint from the surface of the workpiece.
Parameters Affecting Laser Rust Removal
Various factors affect the laser rust removal process.
Laser power is an important aspect that affects the rust-removal abilities of a laser.
It directly affects the intensity of the laser beam directed at the rusted workpiece.
The laser power should be such that it results in a laser beam intensity above the ablation threshold of the rust but below the ablation threshold of the base metal.
Extremely high power laser can melt and damage the workpiece surface, while insufficient power will result in ineffective rust removal.
A laser beam of around 50 Watts is recommended for rust removal. However, the higher the laser power, the faster the rust removal speed.
Therefore, the lasers used for industrial laser rust removal applications can have a laser power of up to 500 W.
Generally, fiber lasers with a galvo head are used for rust removal applications. These galvo lasers consist of a series of mirrors to direct the laser at the workpiece.
Depending upon the mirrors and the lens used in the galvo head, these lasers can have a scanning width of around 6" to 12".
The larger the scanning area, the faster the rust removal process.
However, glavo lasers with a larger scanning area are generally expensive and are ideal for industrial applications where quick machining time is of utmost importance.
The laser source and the laser head heat up during the transmission of laser beams.
Due to this reason, a cooling system in the form of a small portable chiller is utilized in the laser rust removal machines to dissipate the excess heat, keeping the components safe.
This cooling system consists of cooling jackets containing water or some other refrigerant.
The impacted workpiece surface also heats up, but most of the heat dissipates as soon as the rusted surface is removed during sublimation.
As a result, the surface of the workpiece has a temperature of around 40°C to 60°C, which does not affect the surface finish or mechanical properties of the workpiece.
Shielding gases provide a barrier of protection to the workspace from foreign contaminants like water vapors and dust.
These gases are supplied from vents within the laser heads, ensuring that the laser beam effectively removes the rust without any hindrance caused by foreign contaminants.
You can use Nitrogen, Argon, or Helium as the shielding gas, with Argon being the most cost-effective.
The scanning speed is the time rate at which the laser head is moved to and fro, positioning the laser beam on the workpiece surface.
For thin layers of rust, a higher scanning speed, usually around 50 cm2/sec, is preferable.
Contrarily, for thicker layers of rust, the scanning speed is kept low to around 5 cm2/sec to allow for adequate contact of the laser beam with the workpiece surface for a sufficient time.
Laser Rust Remover Recommendations
The selection of the best laser remover comes down to your desired application.
For large-scale commercial applications, features and efficiency are prioritized over cost, whereas for DIY purposes, cost and simplicity are crucial aspects to consider.
US Stock YDFLP-CL-100 is a 100W hand-held portable laser removal machine, making them ideal for DIY purposes due to low electricity consumption.
Weighing only 45.9 kilograms with a lightweight laser head and having dimensions of 24.29″ x 18.46″x 11.46″, it is highly portable and mobile.
It has a beam diameter of 4 mm and a frequency of up to 4000 kHz, which ensures effective and quick rust removal.
An air cooling system ensures that the machine does not heat up after prolonged usage; however, it is preferable to avoid extended usage.
It is manufactured by Luoyang ZAC Industrial, which is a Chinese manufacturer but ensures 7-day delivery and no import duty for customers in the US who purchase it from Amazon.
Apart from that, the machine comes with a 1-year manufacturer's warranty.
Small-size and lightweight for excellent portability
US Stock LYXC LC-2000 is a hand-held portable laser rust removal machine with an operating power of 2000 Watts, making them suitable for medium to large-scale applications.
It has a footprint of around 870″ x 560″x 1050″ and weighs over 397 lbs (180 kg). However, the machine comes with caster wheels for easy portability.
It has a beam diameter of 400 mm and a scanning width of 160 mm, which ensures effective and quick rust removal and enables bulk production.
Furthermore, it has an efficient dust removal system and an option to switch between pulsed and continuous laser beams, making it suitable for long-term applications, as well as removing thick layers of rust.
A distilled water cooling system ensures that the system does not heat up, but this chiller system can consume up to 4000 Watts during peak load conditions, i.e. when the system's temperature gets very high.
Additionally, it has a scanning speed of 15 to 45 m2/h and a 1080 nm laser beam wavelength, effectively removing rust upon contact due to its high absorption rate by metals.
This system, however, does not house a shielding gas system which can be an issue if the relative humidity of the surrounding exceeds 70%.
The machine comes with a 2-year warranty period and ships across the US within 10 days.
Integrated dust removal system and high scanning speed
Robot Laser Cleaning Machine LXQ-HP W is a robotic industrial-level laser removal machine from Laserax.
It is available with laser power options of 20W, 30W, 50W, 100W, 200W, 300W, and 500W.
This machine is suitable for large-scale bulk production applications where automation of the process is required.
You can switch the cooling system between air-cooled and water-cooled options, with the water-cooled being more power intensive.
The laser beam has a spot size of around 2mm, with a wavelength of 1064 nm, while its operating temperature varies between 15 °C to 45 °C.
A touch control panel makes it convenient for users to interact with the machine.
This machine has a mean time before failure of about 100000 hours.
It has a class 1 laser safety rating making it very safe to use, while it has a remote support option which you can opt for in case of any malfunction or troubleshooting.
The advanced fume management system of the machine effectively extracts the vaporized rust cloud from the air, preventing any probability of health hazards or safety hazards like static discharge.
Laser Rust Removal vs Sandblasting
|Parameter||Laser Rust Removal||Sandblasting|
|Cleaning Medium||Laser beam||Abrasive sand particles|
|Mechanism||Sublimation||Mechanical abrasion and erosion|
|Equipment||Laser rust remover||Sandblaster|
|Applications||Aerospace, Ornaments, etc.||Automobiles, construction, etc.|
Laser rust removal uses a laser beam to sublimate rust and produce a clean surface.
Contrarily, sandblasting utilizes a sandblaster gun attached to a tank full of abrasive particles. It fires a continuous stream of abrasive particles at high pressure, removing rust via abrasion upon contact.
Laser rust remover efficiently and gradually removes the rust without damaging the original surface underneath. However, this process is comparatively slower, especially when using an entry-level machine.
A sandblaster may damage the surface underneath due to the highly pressurized stream of abrasive particles that may even erode the original workpiece surface along with the rust.
However, the sandblasting process is much faster, making it ideal for large workpieces.
Laser rust removal is very costly, whereas you can easily purchase a portable sandblaster for under $1,000.
Even high-end sand blasters cost around $20,000, which is much cheaper than high-end laser rust removers that can cost over $100,000.
Laser rust removal is more common in aerospace and ornaments, where efficiency, accuracy, and precision are crucial.
Sandblasting is more common in the automobile and construction industry as bulk production, and, ultimately, the cost is critical to consider.
Traditionally, rusted parts are often ground or polished as this method is the cheapest and most straightforward. You can even use sandblasting or dry ice-blasting for this purpose.
However, in terms of safety, environment, and efficiency, laser rust removal outweigh other methods.
It might be an expensive option for DIY users, but it is preferable for medium to large-scale applications.
If capital is not an issue for you, then a hand-held laser rust removal machine is the right choice for your DIY applications.
Frequently Asked Questions? (FAQ)
What are the safety precautions you should take when performing laser rust removal?
The safety precautions you must take when performing laser rust removal include wearing a face mask, eye goggles, protection gloves, boots, and a safety gown. Although this process is very safe, personal protective equipment is necessary.
What is defined by the ablation threshold of a material in laser rust removal?
The ablation threshold of a material in laser rust removal is defined as the energy threshold beyond which the material will sublimate upon continued exposure to the laser beam.
What is defined by sublimation?
Sublimation is defined as the process in which a solid converts directly into the vapor phase without first transitioning to the liquid phase. As per laser rust removal terminology, it is the direct conversion of solid rust into vaporized rust.