Opening New Doors with Welding

March 8, 2010
Welding systems are growing faster, more accurate, more flexible, and easier to deploy, allowing them to impact new markets.

Manufacturers often face a delicate balance in deploying welding on large-scale applications. These operations require rigorous procedures with sophisticated production machinery, and expert technicians to oversee them. But, in applying welding to the aerospace market and energy applications, such as pipelines, technology breakthroughs have allowed companies to quicken production and streamline operations.

One recent example is found at Michigan-based Duggan Manufacturing, which has invested heavily in remote fiber laser welding operations for high-throughput production processes in the automotive, defense, aerospace, and alternative energy industries.

Duggan Manufacturing's flexible laser welding system uses robots to reduce welding time by half on parts such as automotive seating component assemblies, muffler assemblies, battery cells and solar cell array assemblies.

Laser welding uses a high-powered beam focused over a workpiece at distances up to 40 inches. With a combination of long focal-length lenses and computer-controlled targeting mirrors mounted to a robot arm, Duggan Manufacturing runs a far more efficient operation than conventional laser/resistance spot welding.

"High-powered remote fiber laser welding, brazing and cutting has been an advanced manufacturing technology that has grown rapidly over the last five years because of its increase in weld processing speeds," says Tony Pinho, president of Duggan Manufacturing. "It requires less tooling and part fixturing, and substantially reduces the ongoing maintenance costs typically associated with conventional welding processes."

Duggan Manufacturing's new flexible laser welding cell was able to reduce welding times by half using an ABB robot equipped with two welding heads.

In many ways, laser welding, brazing and cutting are all well-established technologies. What's new, however, is that the processes are being conducted with more sophisticated control technologies and machines that simplify the setup and production.

Another recent technological breakthrough in welding comes from Thompson Friction Welding and Moog Inc., which have developed the world's largest linear friction welding (LFW) machine, capable of welding a surface area of 10,000 mm. That size is nearly twice as large as any previously achieved, and its ability to apply more than 100 metric tons of force to a welded joint surpasses the previous record.

This offers a significant advance because the machine will expand the range of applications for LFW in automotive and aerospace manufacturing, becoming capable of producing components like vehicle flooring or securing the blades on jet engines.

According to both developers, component parts that previously needed to be machined from solid metal -- or cast in molds, or forged from ingots -- can now be fabricated using LFW, opening new manufacturing possibilities.

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