Gone are the days when lasers were things of science fiction fantasies and super spies. Today lasers play a huge and vital role in a vast number of industries and sectors with one of the most important being the automotive world.
There are two distinct areas of the laser market in the automotive industry; applications for manufacturers and applications for companies that supply the parts that make up the vehicles (known as tier two suppliers). At Laser Lines, we work with both sets of business but offer very different solutions for each.
Automotive manufacturers tend to use lasers for two key applications: laser welding and laser brazing. These involve high investment, multi-kilowatt lasers that take a large organisation to implement but that add a great deal of value to the finished product.
In recent years, there has been an increased drive to make vehicles more fuel efficient. One way car manufacturers are achieving that is by building them lighter using aluminium rather than steel. This has increased the adoption of laser welding. Aluminium can be laser welded easily and the process allows designers to make the joints and the flanges much smaller, using less metal and reducing the overall weight of the vehicle.
Unlike traditional welding processes, where access is required to a joint from both the front and back, laser welding only requires access from one side, giving designers much greater freedom and minimising the constraints in creating form.
Laser brazing, the other popular process used by automotive manufacturers, would typically be used to connect sheet metal to the vehicle’s body. A roof might typically be brazed onto a car, creating an incredibly smooth finish compared to welding. It can often be painted over directly, negating the need for any reworking or polishing up; a swifter and more efficient process.
Tier Two Suppliers
As producers of automotive components, tier two suppliers create any number of parts for vehicle manufacturers; from the trims to the coils, carpets to the locks.
With traceability and identification becoming ever-more critical across all manufacturing industries, there is an increased demand for laser marking. This allows vehicle manufacturers, end users or mechanical repair teams to easily locate, identify and correctly maintain or replace components as necessary.
A laser mark could be a logo, serial number, barcode or other identifying symbol that enables a part to be tracked. The mark can list lots of detail, including who it was made by, on what day, from which batch and at which site, providing reassurance, security and confidence for manufacturers, tier two suppliers and the end consumer.
One recent project was fairly typical of the work Laser Lines does with our Automotive customers. The laser was built in to an automated production cell, so the cycle time requirements were very demanding, with only a few seconds available to laser mark the part.
The part was an Aluminium Automotive casting that needed to be marked with a high contrast, permanent and durable mark. Contrast was required as the mark consisted of a machine readable DataMatrix code which are very popular in the Automotive industry. Any lack of contrast could result in a ‘failed read’, which could not be tolerated and strict criteria for readability were specified. The part was also to be marked with human readable characters alongside the DataMatrix code.
Using a higher powered laser marking system, we met both the cycle time and readability targets, with extensive trials run to confirm the capabilities of the system. Laser Lines worked closely with the integrator assisting it with special customised software requirements as well as setting up and programming the laser marking system. The system has been working for a couple of years in a very demanding application and continues to give the same high quality, consistent results.
To find out more about our Industrial Lasers solutions, contact Gary and the Laser Lines team on 01295 672 588 or firstname.lastname@example.org