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May 2020

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Laser Etching Research Leads to Faster Encoder Production

Fagor Automation has been collaborating in the Laser4Surf project, the aim of which is the industrialization of the material surface treatment process using lasers with femtosecond pulses.

"For 45 years, Fagor Automation has been a leading single source provider for automation products, including high accuracy linear and angular encoders," said a company spokesperson. "Accuracy is guaranteed with Fagor Automation encoders, thus a long and careful process is required to achieve reliable results. Now, an international research initiative called Laser for Mass Production of Functionalized Metal Surfaces (Laser4Surf) has made significant advances to improve Fagor Automations process of manufacturing encoders."

This project will have several benefits for linear and angular encoders, including:

  • Faster and more efficient production of the scales
  • Increased repeatability
  • A chemical-free process that is better for the environment.

Fagor Linear and Angular Encoders

Positioning encoders are used in a wide range of industries such as aerospace, automotive, electronics, manufacturing, medical, metrology and renewable energy. For example, the aerospace industry uses encoders to provide position feedback in antenna positioning systems, airborne guidance systems, XY positioning in automated assembly systems and even baggage handling systems. One of the most common applications for encoders is the manufacturing industry, ensuring machine tools are able to make parts with the tightest tolerances possible. There are two categories for these encoders: linear (measuring nanometric distance) and angular (measuring nanometric degrees of rotation).

Traditionally, scale gratings on Fagor encoders have been produced through a process called photolithography. In this case, photolithography involves UV light traveling through a cut pattern in a mask to the steel tape, reacting with chemicals to imprint an image of the pattern to the tape. Lithography is able to consistently produce an accurate pattern of 1 nm. However, the process has several drawbacks. It is time consuming, uses many chemical processes, and a master pattern mask must be replaced very often to ensure accuracy and repeatability.


Laser4Surf is an EU funded research project aiming to remove technical and economic barriers that prevent the use of laser technologies for obtaining functionalized metallic surfaces with textures ~1µm or less on mass production. Eight organizations from five countries contribute their skills and resources to the project, including Fagor Automation.

The development of this system is continuously being tested in three different industrial sectors:

  • Energy sector: to increase the efficiency of battery electrodes
  • Biotechnology sector: to improve the biocompatibility of medical prostheses
  • Manufacturing sector: to improve the manufacturing of position encoders

Laser4Surf is set to ease the manufacture of both optical linear and angle encoders by replacing the photolithography process. The Laser4Surf system uses a program-controlled ultra-short pulse laser for surface texturing, and this laser source can be used to repeatedly and reliably produce grating features into the encoder.

The Laser4Surf process will also create sub-micron relief structures designed to reduce distracting background light. "We also hope to use this property to increase the optical contrast of our optical signals," said Tomas Morlanes, PhD, optical technology manager at Fagor Automation. "Translating this effect to the electronic field will also provide a better signal to noise ratio."

With the use of the ultra-short pulse laser, Fagor Automation aims to reduce the processing time of the scales by 95%. The process is fast, one step and chemical-free, making the process more eco-friendly.

"By participating in this research, Fagor Automation is contributing to the development of laser technologies, as well as a more eco-friendly and sustainable future," said the spokesperson.

View introduction to Laser4Surf video at

For more information contact:

Fagor Automation - USA

2250 Estes Avenue

Elk Grove Village, IL 60007



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