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Is Laser Welding a Good Fit for Your Operation?

For enterprises seeking enhanced productivity and cost-efficiency in their welding operations, the prospect of employing laser welding should not be overlooked. The world of laser welding has evolved considerably, becoming more accessible and cost-effective than ever before. It offers substantially higher travel speeds in comparison to conventional welding techniques, ensuring uniform weld quality, particularly in automated welding scenarios.

I. Maximizing Productivity and Cost Savings

Enhancing productivity and reducing operational costs are pivotal considerations across the welding spectrum. While technology advancements are frequently explored to attain these objectives, laser welding is sometimes overlooked due to misconceptions surrounding its perceived complexity and costliness.

However, the landscape of laser welding technology has witnessed significant development, rendering it both accessible and economically viable. Moreover, it promises remarkable productivity enhancements that can swiftly yield a substantial return on investment, particularly within the realm of sheet metal welding applications.

Assessing Laser Welding Suitability for Sheet Metal Operations

To determine whether laser welding is a suitable fit for your sheet metal operations, it is imperative to contemplate key factors and the associated benefits it offers.

II. Advantages of Laser Welding Systems

Laser welding boasts travel speeds that can be five to ten times faster than TIG welding and three to five times faster than MIG welding in certain applications. It also serves as a viable alternative to resistance spot welding in numerous scenarios.

One prime instance where transitioning to laser welding can unlock substantial productivity advantages is the automated welding of sheet metal. Given the high travel speeds and minimal heat input of the laser welding process, it mitigates the risk of burn-through often associated with thin materials like sheet metal. Moreover, there are pre-engineered laser welding systems readily available in the market that facilitate hassle-free installation, thereby minimizing downtime during setup.

III. Progress in Laser Welding Technology

Laser welding's prevalence in automated welding applications is on the ascent, primarily owing to technological advancements that have bolstered its accessibility and affordability.

Traditionally, carbon dioxide lasers were employed in laser welding, featuring a wavelength of roughly 10 microns. Unfortunately, lasers with this wavelength were incompatible with fiber optic cables, rendering automation a challenging endeavor.

However, technological strides have ushered in a new era. The advent of 1-micron wavelength lasers has enabled the transmission of laser light through fiber optic cables, substantially simplifying the automation of laser welding processes. Furthermore, these 1-micron wavelength lasers typically rely on diodes for power generation. As the manufacturing of potent diodes has become more proficient, fewer diodes are required to energize these lasers, leading to a reduction in the per-power cost of laser welding systems.

IV. Unlocking Benefits in Sheet Metal Applications

Components traditionally subjected to TIG welding, especially those necessitating a high-quality finish, stand as prime candidates for transitioning to laser welding processes. The characteristics of laser welding make it particularly well-suited for sheet metal applications. Sheet metal, by nature, is thin and demands low heat input during welding. It frequently finds application in contexts where aesthetic quality and cosmetic results hold paramount importance, such as in the production of appliances, signs, or elevator panels. Laser welding can seamlessly address these requisites.

Moreover, laser welding often obviates the necessity for filler metal or shielding gas. Consequently, weld profiles remain significantly shallow, reducing or altogether eliminating the need for post-weld grinding. This not only saves time and money but also augments productivity.

For instance, let's consider a common sheet metal application: the fabrication of electrical boxes. In the context of MIG welding, post-weld grinding is typically requisite to remove superfluous weld reinforcements at external corners. A shift to laser welding effectively eradicates the expenses and efforts associated with post-weld cleanup.

Additionally, the substantially higher travel speeds achievable through laser welding in comparison to TIG or MIG welding impart a considerable boost to productivity and operational efficiency, with the potential to favorably influence the bottom line.

V. Conduction vs. Keyhole Mode

Laser welding encompasses two distinct modes: conduction and keyhole, each carrying its own set of merits tailored to specific applications. It is crucial to discern which mode aligns with your requirements.

The transition between conduction and keyhole modes in laser welding hinges on energy density.

At lower energy densities, the laser beam exhibits a larger spot and lower power levels, characterizing conduction mode. In this mode, surface heating predominates, with heat transferring through the workpiece via conduction. Conduction mode typically yields a calm weld puddle akin to TIG welding and excels in precision-demanding cosmetic welds, such as those found at the exterior corners of boxes or signs.

Conversely, as power levels escalate, resulting in a reduction in spot size from 2 millimeters to a mere 0.6 millimeters in diameter, energy density amplifies substantially. This transition ushers in keyhole mode, characterized by deeper penetration welding with heightened energy density.

Keyhole mode proves invaluable in scenarios necessitating the piercing of two overlapping or stacked material pieces to facilitate welding. When the laser light interacts with the uppermost surface, it vaporizes it and permeates both workpieces, swiftly filling the weld seam as the laser traverses. This renders keyhole mode laser welding an attractive alternative in situations that formerly relied on resistance spot welding. Notably, keyhole mode laser welding surpasses resistance spot welding in terms of efficiency and is more amenable to automation.

It's noteworthy that a single laser welding system can accommodate both conduction and keyhole modes. The mode transition is achieved by either enhancing power levels or shrinking the laser's spot size.

VI. Consideration of Pre-Engineered Systems

The adoption of pre-engineered laser welding systems carries numerous advantages. Pre-engineered systems available in the market offer ease of use and expedited installation procedures.

Certain manufacturers construct pre-engineered cells on a unified platform and dispatch them fully assembled. This plug-and-play approach enables swift integration into your welding operation, often allowing for same-day implementation. Incorporating a laser welding cell becomes as straightforward as integrating any other robotic welding system.

A notable divergence between pre-engineered laser welding systems and other pre-engineered robotic systems lies in the necessity to contain all emitted light within the welding area for safety considerations. Systems adhering to this requirement receive a class 1 rating, obviating the need for additional eye protection outside the cell. This affords greater flexibility in positioning a laser welding cell within your workshop or factory floor.

Furthermore, certain welding system manufacturers extend the convenience of testing labs, where sample parts can be processed within a laser welding system. This offers invaluable insights into the compatibility of a laser system with your specific application.

V. Realizing Productivity Gains with Laser Welding Systems

Laser welding may still remain uncharted territory for numerous manufacturers engaged in automated welding operations. Nevertheless, its integration is no more complex than that of other robotic welding systems. The elevated travel speeds and minimal heat input inherent to laser welding position it as a formidable contender for sheet metal welding applications demanding precision and aesthetic finesse.

For enterprises presently relying on MIG, TIG, or resistance spot welding, transitioning to laser welding can usher in marked productivity enhancements. This transition translates to time and cost savings while upholding the delivery of high-quality welds.