By Geoff Giordano
While excitement continues to build around new, more efficient and more profitable uses of lasers, such as with additive manufacturing or ultrafast processing, traditional welding and joining applications are still at the forefront of the 21st-century photonics repertoire.
Emphasizing this major segment of laser-based manufacturing, the Laser Institute of America has added a comprehensive two-day workshop to its second-annual Lasers for Manufacturing Event (LME™). It will run concurrently Oct. 23-24 at the Renaissance® Hotel and Convention Center Resort in Schaumburg, IL.
Chaired by Prof. Eckhard Beyer of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology, IWS in Dresden, the Laser Welding & Joining Workshop will spotlight the latest uses of lasers in key industries: aerospace, automotive, defense, energy, health care and heavy manufacturing. Current research and practice will focus on general macro laser applications, remote welding and brazing, hybrid welding and joining of multiple materials, micro welding and welding of thin sheets.
“The workshop will start with short courses presented by industrial research experts to give a sound overview of laser basics and current developments,” Prof. Beyer explained. “End users with longstanding experience will present their solutions to the typical challenges of laser applications.”
Presentations are slated from large multiventure companies like GE, as well as automotive suppliers and OEMs, according to Dr. Gunther Göbel, a special joining technologies expert with Fraunhofer IWS. Also featured will be integrators and research experts.
For example, “ESAB will give us insights into the impact of lasers in heavy industry and how it is changing this industry from essentially low-tech, high-craft operations to more high-tech, low-cost production,” Göbel noted.
In addition to the workshop, attendees at LME 2012 can participate in a two-hour laser welding and joining tutorial. The overall educational package is geared to everyone from process and applications engineers, to product designers, to business developers and plant supervisors.
“We hope that they will learn what the laser community is doing in macro and micro laser welding applications,” Göbel explained. “They can use this knowledge to get new ideas on how to use lasers in their own applications effectively. We hope that all main trends of the welding industry will be visible. Of course, newcomers should learn why and how lasers work — and what they can and can’t do.”
What lasers are doing is creating significant bottom-line efficiencies by streamlining processing lines and reducing the use of materials and energy. The automotive industry is a major beneficiary of lasers’ value proposition.
“Of course automotive is still important,” Göbel said. “Here we see the impact of high-brightness lasers and lower investment costs. In my opinion this trend will continue for some time. I think this will be visible in several presentations.”
“A very prominent example is still the powertrain industry. This also includes off-highway drivetrain components. We will have a presentation covering that. In this domain, the laser is a very important tool as it enables significant advances: higher productivity, higher efficiency, low heat input, low distortion, etc.”
At the inaugural LME in 2011, auto manufacturers were out in force.
“I had one guy asking about a battery welding application (and) another guy asking about glass processing; they do automotive glass mirrors and asked about laser scribing,” said Robert Mueller of NuTech Engineering, who manned the expert booth both days and is chair of the “Ask a Laser Expert” feature again this year. “There are enough lasers in automotive now that they’re starting to look around and go, ‘OK, where else can I do it?’ Management is comfortable to a certain extent with existing applications; now we can look around a bit farther.”
LME, being held once again in proximity to many automakers and laser job shops, is geared to be one-stop shopping for those either seeking to refine current laser systems and applications or assessing potential new ways to employ lasers in production. The educational program, in addition to the focus on welding and joining, will emphasize the rudiments of understanding the main types of lasers used for manufacturing, how to choose low-cost methods, and maintain laser safety.
The Welding & Joining Workshop will feature 18 presentations, spread out to allow ample time for attendees to interact directly with OEMs in the exhibit hall.
“As many laser manufacturers and system builders are engaged in the workshop, this would be an ideal opportunity to get application-related questions answered and get new ideas on how to use lasers,” Dr. Beyer said. “We are going to unite many people from the laser community who were and are shaping the way the world of lasers is today. This will make it possible to address lasers from basics to high-end applications.”
“We still see a big impact of the tremendous rise in beam quality and energy efficiency,” Beyer said. “Here the application fields are expanded in many ways: ultra-low distortions or the realization of new mixed-material joints like copper-aluminum using precisely shaped weld pools. Also, remote-beam applications are now standard; that was a field restricted to expensive high-brightness lasers just a few years ago. Furthermore, laser size reduction is a key development: Many lasers are now so small that machine integration is much simpler and can be done in a way not possible before.”
LME 2012 will again feature the highly popular Laser Technology Showcase, a stage at the front of the exhibit hall that will be used for keynote educational presentations and shorter informational addresses by many companies in attendance. The showcase format helped foster interaction between attendees seeking solutions and a wide array of industry leaders able to lend their expertise in person. New this year will be the opportunity to view working laser systems.
Attendees at the first-ever LME praised the unique session’s efficiency in bringing together those with questions about laser-based manufacturing and the key industry players with the expertise to address their needs.
“It’s a good opportunity for everybody to learn about all the technologies in the same place,” said Octavio Islas, an automotive product engineer with Magna/Cosma in Mexico. “You can get a lot of information from all the suppliers. If you have any specific requirement, you have … people with a lot of knowledge and experience, and they can tell you about your application and all the details.”
To register to attend LME 2012, the Laser Welding & Joining Workshop or the tutorials addressing the basics of laser welding or ultrafast machining, visit www.lia.org/store/conf/lme2012.