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Laser Welding for Sheetmetal Fabricators

Robin Stuhler
By Robin Stuhler TruLaser Sales Engineer, Trumpf

Although laser welding is a well-established manufacturing solution, many sheetmetal fabricators have been hesitant to implement the process at their shop.

For many years they have missed out on the advantages laser welding has to offer and focused on improving other bottlenecks, for example, in laser cutting or bending. With these solutions in place and laser welding emerging as a more viable solution, many fabricators are beginning to recognize the laser welding process as the next logical step in enhancing their production capabilities.

Manufacturers benefit from any process that reduces cost per part—and laser welding has many advantages in this regard. Due to the low heat input of this process, distortion and discoloration can be avoided to completely eliminate the need for refinishing. As these postprocesses are extremely time consuming and expensive, the costs per part are significantly reduced. Furthermore, laser welding speeds are considerably higher than conventional processes, which often greatly reduces processing times. This leads to free capacity on the machine, allowing the manufacturer to serve more customers.

Laser welding is not only about reducing costs, but also increasing functionality. A smooth surface with an extremely narrow welding geometry is beneficial for kitchen, furniture and other industries where visible weld seams are common. Due to the low heat input, manufacturers can avoid discoloration and achieve highly aesthetic parts directly from the machine. One can also achieve very strong seams for parts that require strength. The characteristic seam geometry of laser welding leads to full penetration of the parts while reducing the influence on the grain structure. Tensile strength tests show conventionally welded seams break in the welding seam, while laser welded parts break in the base material.

After the welding program is implemented and the parameters are set, a laser welding robot achieves consistent quality every time. It is also a very stable process and can generate watertight seams to eliminate the need for leak tests. Laser welding also offers unique seam geometries enabling the part designer to reduce weight, material and costs, such as replacing spot welds with overlap joints that are not only stronger, but also invisible from the other side.

Despite all the benefits of laser welding, including cost reduction in the long term, manufacturers are often discouraged by the initial investment costs. The LaserNetwork can drastically reduce this cost while increasing the laser source utilization by using a single laser for up to four machines. This lowers the entry barrier of implementing laser welding into production. Once the company has enough orders and high machine utilization, a second laser source can be retrofitted.

One of the keys to a successful implementation of laser welding is the part and fixture design. The part design must minimize gaps and avoid bending tolerances while the fixture has many requirements that can make its design very important. Not only must the fixture close gaps with force, it will consistently and precisely position the parts, be fast to load and unload, and enable good accessibility, while also functioning as a heat sink for the welding process. As a partner, Trumpf helps customers navigate these issues using its experience in lasers, sheetmetal design and welding processes. Laser welding is the next logical step and Trumpf has the know-how to support the implementation of this technology in your production process.

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