Annealing stainless steel business cards and tags is something we do a lot of here at CNCROi.com.
Like our anodized aluminium offerings, we maintain an inventory of various sizes, grades, shape and finishes of 304 stainless steel for our customers wanting anything from stainless valve tags to business cards.
About 95% of our stainless steel is annealed with the rest marked. The difference? Annealing, as you’ll see in this blog post, is pitch black while marking stainless steel is a faster (and cheaper) process which produces a brown or scratchy result.
There are several challenges with producing the “perfect annealing” on stainless steel, in this case, business cards with rounded corner sized. We keep a lot of these specific units along with ones with four holes as our welding customers love affixing these on their finished work and other customers screwing them onto their machinery.
Back to things that “can go wrong” with stainless steel annealing, the biggest issue is falling out of focus. Unlike wood where we can easily engrave even if it’s a cm out of tolerance, we have less than a mm when it comes to producing a perfectly black and consistent annealing.
To help combat possible issues, we’ve invested heavily in several processes to keep our reject rate as low as possible. These include using a fiber specific lens with a higher focus tolerance with our fiber laser and USING a fiber laser. There are two grades of annealing, TRUE annealing and ceramic bonding.
Looking at ceramic bonding (often passed-off as annealing) vs true annealing, there is a marked difference. Annealing is PERMANENT while ceramic bonding IS NOT. Why do people try to pass-off ceramic bonding as annealing? It’s cheaper, faster and although it will chip, fade and come off with time, few people will realize they’ve been swindled until it’s too late.
True annealing is a very hot process, it’s so hot, that if you look at the above stainless steel business card, you can even see it bending upwards from the heat that’s focused only on the surface!
Ceramic bonding is nowhere near as hot and doesn’t require a fiber laser tube. That’s the major difference, you can use dramatically cheaper CNC laser tube, CO2, to produce something that looks annealed to the customer but is nowhere near annealed. It’s just ceramic bonding, bonding that comes off.
How do you know if you are being short-changed in your 304 stainless tag annealing? It’s pretty easy, generally, the ceramic bonding process is above the surface unless the shop REALLY has their settings dialed-in. You should be able to feel a significant raising over said surface with your finger.
With fiber annealing, true annealing, there is a slight raising that you can feel but nowhere near as much. Additionally, if you try to scrape it off using a pocket knife or something else that’s very sharp and hard, you will have an incredibly difficult time removing the annealing vs ceramic bonding.
I’ve done a number of things over the past year of founding CNCROi.com, and the biggest has been to continue coming-up with a design that both describes the process of what we do along with a showcase of our capability, hence the new design you see here.
On this stainless steel card, you’ll notice a number of features that I’ve integrated into the design. First off, the 4 x 4 circles with a square box going between all the outer ones. Why is this important? It showcases that our circles are CIRCLES (not easy on a cheap machine) and the square should be dead center in all four corners.
I’ve also added units of measurement at the other side of the stainless steel business card, 1 mm round (and square) through to 5 mm. The lines are very thin because these are cutting paths instead of “engraving” ones meaning, it’s still annealing, just a different method using our same fiber laser source.
I’ve also added a number of outlines and fills, again, all annealed, so the customer can easily visually see the repeatability and accuracy of our CNC laser. You’ll also notice the palm tree, lots of fine details and consistent down to up.
The easiest solution to having stainless steel bending from the heat of true annealing is the use of a thicker plate, the first one you saw in this blog post was 0.02″ while this one is 0.05″ or a little over 1 mm compared to well over 2 mm.
The other workaround to annealing stainless steel bending is to do multiple passes as annealing “builds onto itself” but it’s preferable to get this done in one pass. Annealing works across any size, shape and thickness, the thicker stuff is less prone to bending but that still isn’t much of an issue for CNCROi.com due to our set-up.
The other reason why we DO NOT use ceramic bonding paste with our stainless steel is that the paste itself is toxic and washing it off is generally done over a running sink, meaning this hazardous material goes straight down into the local environment. Sure, fiber tubes cost A LOT of money, but it produces better results and is by far better for the environment.
The one disadvantage is that it’s a slow process, hence the cost of annealing stainless steel is a relatively expensive one, but in this case, you really do get what you pay for. Using a CO2 with ceramic bonding is cheaper, by far.
But a company trying to cheat you out of your annealing will generally also have a far lower quality machine, hence not investing in the right machinery to do the job properly. What’s the problem with this? Well, odds are, their machine will also not do the work as described in your spec work properly, meaning the line width won’t be consistent, the “annealing” (really ceramic bonding) won’t be straight across the entire wording you are adding and worse, as their machine is flimsy, your repeatability will be nowhere near what you are expecting.
Not only will one or two things be “off-mark” but EVERYTHING will be off-mark. You are already being cheated across the board, repeatability will be the last problem you will have with them.
CNCROi.com has an Austrian CNC laser, we have a dual-sourced machine with BOTH a CO2 and fiber laser source and we have ultimate repeatability, integrity and accountability with our work. We are and fully expect to be checked on the quality of our work.
Looking at these 304 stainless steel cards, you will notice that regardless of thickness or finish, they are identical in every way. The circles are round, the squares SQUARE and annealing is consistent across the board.
Looking at the logo, you’ll also notice a consistent white “outline” breaking into the top of the palm tree. This is yet another feature I’ve added to this design, so our clients can have our cards tested by their own quality assurance department for consistency.
You might think, this is a lot of trouble to give to ourselves, but this is what our clients expect from us, even when they don’t. I’m extremely proud of the investment CNCROi.com has made into our Austrian industrial wide-format laser, and we will continue on this trajectory of improving our processes, equipment and expertise so our customers can benefit as well.
Looking for a passionate custom CNC shop that cares about details and processes that you may not even be aware of, that go into everything we do? You’ve found CNCROi.com. Give us the opportunity to make something awesome for you!