Laser etching is used in the making of some of the world’s finest musical instruments. Now it has been applied to the all-new Lexus RX, too
In 2012, Takayuki Katsuda, the chief engineer of the Lexus RX, asked Yamaha Fine Technologies (YFT), a division of the Yamaha Corporation, to create a wood interior element unique to the RX. Katsuda believed that Lexus’ popular SUV was luxurious, but not luxurious enough. He wanted something more: to make the SUV completely unique, like nothing else in its class.
YFT knows a thing or two about working in high-quality wood finishes—Yamaha is renowned for manufacturing award-winning grand pianos, violins, violas, and cellos. For the Lexus job, the division proposed to use a laser-etching procedure that would introduce sophisticated wood ornamentation into the RX’s center console. Katsuda, suitably impressed, said yes. Production began last year.
The resulting element is an elegant piece of craftsmanship that elevates the RX’s cabin from being luxurious to being completely unique. But making the component is not easy. The entire 14-step process takes roughly eight weeks and involves dozens of supremely qualified craftspeople. Sheets of high-quality sapele wood are imported from Africa, bonded to a thin layer of aluminum, and later stained, to remove the wood’s natural reddish hue.
This Element is an elegant piece of high-end craftsmanship that elevates the RX’s cabin from being luxurious to being completely unique
Then the magic happens. A laser burns away the surface of the wood in precise straight lines, revealing the aluminum beneath and creating a sharp contrast between the two materials. There is variation in the way each piece of wood burns, so the equipment’s settings are constantly monitored for quality. And no two pieces of wood have the same pattern, so each element is entirely unique.
It’s notable that the brand decided to use the process in the RX, one of its most popular models. “While the L-Select LS model in Japan had a laser-etched emblem,” says Naoyuki Kitamura, of YFT’s Automotive Component Division, “we needed to really refine and evolve the process for the RX, because it marks the first time we incorporated it in this way into a production model being made worldwide.”