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Innovations Enable Faster Beam Delivery, On-the-Fly Welding

Geoff Giordano
By Geoff Giordano Contributing Editor, SME Media

For ABB, robotic welding comes down to a never-ending process of ensuring parts are suitable for laser joining and developing the appropriate processes. To that end, ABB is refining a recent innovation to improve beam delivery speeds and has developed software for on-the-fly welding in tandem with Trumpf’s Intelligent Programmable Focusing Optic (IPFO).

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ABB’s robotic 3D-inspection systems collect and record workpiece data to reduce cycle times by detecting defective components early in production.

The software allows the IPFO system—a large structure with a laser behind a system of movable mirrors—to create intricately shaped welds even while in motion. Without the software, the laser head, attached to a robot arm, could only weld what was in its field of vision before moving to another position to begin the next series of welds. In the case of an automotive seat frame requiring six welds, process time was reduced to six seconds from nine seconds, thanks to the ability to move the laser beam at speeds up to 300 mm/sec.

“There is significant growth in the use of pressed parts in the automotive industry, driven by a trend to produce larger panels as a single part,” explained Mark Oxlade, market development manager for robotic welding and cutting for ABB Inc. (Auburn Hills, MI). “Each press requires multiple laser systems, which has caused a backlog. Also, the automotive industry is continuing to expand the incidence of joining dissimilar metals, for which the high-temperature beam of laser welding is especially well suited. With the increase of batteries in cars and adoption of copper, lasers are the growing alternative for joining technology.”

Another significant ABB development is its new Robotic Inspection System, developed in collaboration with quality-control specialists NUB3D before ABB bought NUB3D in February 2017.

Using a 3D white-light scanning sensor on an ABB robot arm, highly detailed geometric and surface data are rapidly recorded and compared with digital CAD models. This helps reduce cycle times by detecting defective components early in production. The automated system is so accurate that it assesses material in microns rather than millimeters and can capture up to 25 million data points in a single scan.

“Every shot taken provides 1.5 and 5 million points for [ABB/NUB3D scanners] Sidio Lite and Sidio Airus, respectively,” Oxlade said. The system “enables a high level of automation with advanced data analysis. This helps manufacturers improve quality and productivity while accommodating greater product variation and customization in smaller lots.”

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