Laser Marking for Microstamping & Ballistics Identification

Advanced laser technology is poised to help satisfy the challenging requirements of a controversial gun law, while lifting the financial burdens placed on gun manufacturers and consumers who need to comply with that law.

Unique markings are engraved on the head of the firing pin

Microstamping is a promising approach to tracking crime scene evidence back to the firearms that may have been used in a crime.   It involves engraving microscopic markings onto the tip of a firing pin or onto the breech face of a firearm; creating a unique stamp.

When the firearm is discharged, individually-identifiable markings are transferred to the cartridge by the pressure created when a round is fired.

The firing pin strikes the bullet and imprints a unique mark

These etched or engraved unique markings — such as an alphanumeric code — on the very end of a firing pin, in turn generate unique marks on bullet shells and cartridge cases;  These marks could be easily examined at crime scenes using equipment as simple as a magnifying glass.

Variants of the controversial law, first signed in 2007 in California by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and currently under consideration in seven other states, mandate that certain types of firearms be fitted with at least two mechanisms inside the internal workings of the gun which imprint microscopic serial numbers onto the cartridge.  Under these laws, each serial number must be unique to the gun from which it was fired.

The cost of microstamping

Expenses associated with compliance have proven prohibitive. Citing increased costs of manufacturing, the two largest handgun manufacturers in the U.S., Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co., announced in 2014 their intent to stop selling new semi-automatic handguns in California.

Traditional laser marking systems are ineffective

Previous methods for physically creating a reliable microstamp on the highly-reflective metal parts used in firearm construction, including dot peen marking, have proven ineffective, creating microstamps which lose definition and clarity as the weapon is repeatedly fired.  Conventional laser marking methods, involving CO2 lasers, are not effective or efficient at marking highly-reflective metal parts.

Recently, firearm manufacturers have begun using Laser Photonics laser marking systems for this application.

Laser Photonics marking systems, equipped with Fonon laser technology 

Fonon’s advanced laser technology is particularly effective at marking and engraving highly-reflective metal surfaces, including all metals used in firearm construction.  When compared to contemporary CO2 laser technology of equal wattage, Fonon laser technology is three times faster when processing steel.

Power consumption by Fonon laser equipment is less than five percent the consumption of a comparable CO2 system, and the lifespan of Fonon equipment is rated at a five to ten times longer.  Additionally, the Fonon laser is maintenance-free and requires no consumables.

The Canyon deep engraving system

Using a Laser Photonics marking system for direct parts marking increases quality, throughput and makes permanent marks.  Laser Photonics systems used in microstamping and other applications in the gun manufacturing industry include the MegaCenter, the ActionMaster, the Canyon deep engraving system (shown here), and a number of specialized systems.  You can find out more about these systems by clicking here.

For additional information on the history and use of lasers to mark weapons, see the Fonon blog entry, “Best Practices in Weapons Marking, Etching, and Engraving” by following this link.