Process Optimization Invisibly Embedded QR Codes for Component Identification
To ensure that a component remains reliably identifiable and traceable over its entire life cycle, the Fraunhofer IFAM has developed a technology for all common casting processes for direct casting of metallic QR codes. They are invisible on the component surface, cannot be damaged and remain digitally readable throughout the life cycle of the component.
Cast components are marked on the surface with details of the manufacturer, article and batch number. The markings are used to identify the component even after production - as long as the codes have not been damaged or removed. Customer demands for product quality assurance are increasingly demanding that foundries mark their castings in an unchangeable way to make them identifiable during the production process and beyond. Automated and cost-effective processes that mark the casting during production and allow subsequent uncomplicated post-processing such as heat treatment, blasting or coating over the entire surface of the component are required.
In the process developed by the Fraunhofer IFAM, a metallic QR code is poured in for identification purposes, which is printed in advance by means of additive manufacturing and can be used for all casting alloys. The powder-based process has been used for years in the "3D Metal Printing" working group at the Dresden branch of the institute to enable small metallic precision components to be produced in large quantities. With this technology, all required information can be generated on the QR code and stored permanently.
Data Storage and Reading of the QR Code
A precondition for complete tracking is the storage of all available information in a central database and an uncomplicated readout procedure. Since there is no indication of a marking on the component surface after casting, ultrasonic or X-ray equipment is used to make the structure of the QR code visible as an image. The code is read from the image using a software algorithm and the contained identification is automatically queried in the database. The software then immediately displays the desired information such as article number, batch and manufacturer information or component variants on a screen or smartphone.
Adapted to the process, the above-mentioned readout methods can be used as stand-alone systems or integrated into an inline quality inspection system.
QR Codes as Plagiarism Protection - Forgery is No Longer Possible
The step into the digital quality control offers a further added value, especially for high-quality cast products. It is, for example, an interesting application scenario for aluminum rims manufactured in low-pressure die casting. With such cast components, markings on the surface often have a disturbing effect and limit the freedom of design. In this segment, clear marking is also of interest as protection against plagiarism, so that product counterfeiting will be a thing of the past in the future.