How cool would it be if you could take an old rusty car part and clean the rust away just like using an eraser to pencil? Well that future is here and it involves lasers. Yes frickin lasers as Dr. Evil would say! How cool is that!
Anyone who has dealt with the best method of removing rust or layers of old paint from a car part or other piece of metal knows the struggle all too well. Chemical, sanding, wire wheels all work fair on large and/or flat surfaces but it’s usually labor intensive, and toxic waste left behind if acid strippers are used. It’s a compromise at best. Some think media blasting is the perfect alternative and it does work quite well on intricate parts. There’s still a trade off here also, if the right media isn’t used or too much pressure is used the surface will be damaged. Media needs to be replenished on a regular basis which can be costly, and this method is still labor intensive in many cases.
It would seem there is an answer – lasers! Two companies I found that are offering laser rust removal/surface cleaning options are P-Laser Industrial Laser Cleaning in Belgium, and the other is Enviromental surface recovery LTD out of Canada. The advantages of using a laser are immediately obvious after watching the video below. There is no contact, and thus no abrasive or chemical wear or damage to the surface taking place. There is no cleanup afterwards. There isn’t any media or chemicals that needs replenished. Parts can be cleaned in a fraction of the time of older conventional methods. There is no noise – many people will applaud about this. The only operating expense is of course electricity. P-laser claims this to be aprox $1/hr.
The way the process works is by having the high energy light beam pulsed at high frequency creating a plasma which literally vaporizes any surface contaminants such as grease, paint, or oxides (rust). A suction device takes away the vaporized residue that would be left otherwise. Image courtesy of P-Laser.
Here’s a demonstration video by ESR:
Although the use of lasers for surface cleaning is not brand new having been around a few years, it is becoming more readily available in industrial applications just in the past year to the point where it is becoming a viable option for some larger companies doing a lot of surface restoration/refinishing. I could not find a reliable listing for price (there is no pricing on either companies website), but it is safe to say the initial investment is out of the realm of the hobbyist, currently being over $250,000USD for a high powered 1000 Watt model based on various sources scattered online. While it’s still a few years at least from having lasers being common place in tool boxes on every corner, this is some of the most exciting technology to come around in years for us enthusiasts who love to get our hands dirty!