When cleaning high-value products — such as aircraft and military vehicles — there are a variety of options available. But, there’s only one option that is both safe for the person operating the cleaning tool and also safe for the material they’re cleaning. Laser cleaning provides a safer alternative to sandblasting, dry ice blasting, and other cleaning methods, but there are still risks that can be easily avoided with training.
WHAT IS LASER CLEANING?
Laser cleaning is a non-conductive, non-damaging, and environmentally-friendly option for cleaning metal and non-metal applications. It works by distributing thousands of focused laser pulses each second through layers of contaminants. As the light is absorbed, the targeted surface materials turn into a gas and are removed. This makes it an ideal solution for contaminants like rust, oil, and more. Laser cleaning is mostly used for:
- Bonding preparation
- Coating preparation
- Mold tool cleaning
- Nuclear decontamination
- Surface prep for NDI
- Welding/brazing preparation
- Welding post-treatment
LASER CLEANING SAFETY BASICS
While laser cleaning is relatively risk-free in the sense that lasers don’t blast shards or other metallic pieces into the space of any nearby individuals — as is the case with media blasting — there are still some safety precautions when operating the tool. Before operating a cleaning laser, you should always receive training to ensure you know how to use the equipment properly and that the proper settings have been set up.
The most important laser cleaning safety basics include:
1. Laser Safety Enclosures
When operating a laser cleaner, an enclosure can help protect passersby and operators from specular and diffuse reflections. A well-designed enclosure will prevent the laser from operating when access panels or doors are open or when parts are missing. Each setup should include interlocking mechanisms to ensure anyone can’t enter the optical hazard zone when a laser is in use.
2. Personal Protective Equipment
Not all jobs require a fixed enclosure — especially if using a portable laser cleaner. But, using a laser does require a designated hazard zone. When operating any powered cleaning laser without an enclosure, you should always wear laser safety glasses — that includes anyone entering the optical hazard zone where a laser is in use. The surrounding area should also be controlled and include signage to follow procedures.
In general, lasers produce a focused wavelength of light to a specific area, and with our laser sources, you should never allow the laser emission to come into contact with your eyes or skin. For eyes, this includes non-direct contact such as with diffuse reflections, like when the laser emission bounces off a typical metal surface, or specular reflections, which is an optical mirror or optically polished surface. Unlike other methods of blast cleaning, gloves aren’t necessary if following proper safety procedures. Before operating any cleaning lasers, you should receive training to understand how to use the lasers properly and eliminate the risk of doing harm to yourself or other people.
3. Other Safety Measures
When cleaning hazardous paint contaminants — such as lead- or chrome-based paints — laser technology minimizes your risk of airborne contaminants. However, these contaminants exist in the air and need to be captured which is why our equipment is designed to capture as you clean and proven as extremely safe. Other forms of media blasting that remove these hazardous layers end up contaminating the air and can be hazardous to eyes, skin, and lungs. But, since contaminants absorb laser light, break down into a gas, and are then captured via our unique optic designs and air filtration, the risk is essentially mitigated.
Our laser systems also may require 480V. As with any other electrical solutions, you should always be mindful of proper electrical equipment lockout or tag-out procedures to prevent exposure. By receiving the proper training, you can minimize the risks of electrocution.
Non-metallic products — including wood, paper, and other combustible material — can pose a flammability risk if exposed to the laser emission for long enough. If the beam is out of focus, the material may start to heat up to the point of combustion. It is best to remove combustible material from the laser ablation area prior to cleaning.
WHATEVER YOUR NEEDS, ADAPT LASER HAS A SOLUTION FOR IT
Adapt Laser specializes in the know-how and application of laser cleaning solutions. We offer products with a range between 20 and 1,000 watts and provide training — including laser safety procedures, equipment operations and maintenance, and troubleshooting — to ensure your employees can get the most from their laser cleaning solutions. We’ve equipped a variety of industries and companies with laser cleaning solutions — including military and defense for the US Airforce and Navy — and hundreds of organizations trust our state-of-the-art laser cleaning solutions.