40 Industrial Laser Solutions MAY/JUNE 2015 www.industrial-lasers.com
David A. Belforte
Five decades of laser light
In this International Year of Light and Light-based
Technologies, as designated by the United Nations
General Assembly, the photonics industry has
joined together to announce the importance of
light and optical technologies in our lives. Our sister publication Laser Focus World is playing a leading role in this Year of Light—a role not envisioned
when they started 50 years ago in 1965.
Ten years from that date, Ford Motor Company
made a daring move: the use of a high-power
CO2 laser to weld together stampings to form the
underbody of a new, “quiet” 1976 Torino. For reasons including the infamous oil embargo that crippled the US auto industry, this car was canceled
and the entrance of laser welding into body-in-white manufacture was set back.
Flash ahead 10 years to 1985, when BMW used
a 5k W CO2 laser to weld the roof of the new 3-
Series touring car—perhaps the first body-shop
welding application in the world.
Ten more years and Audi used solid-state
lasers to weld the roof and C-pillar on their new A3
series. Also, in 1996, BMW used CO2 laser robots
to weld roof-to-side seams of the new 5-Series.
Over the next 10 years, the auto industry seized
on lasers as a viable welding tool and several dozens of installations occurred: Volvo used a solid-state laser robot to weld galvanized roof panels of the V70; GM used laser-welded tailored
blanks for the body side panels of the 2002 Buick
Rendezvous; and Daimler Chrysler installed the first
North American remote laser welding system to
make spot welds in the rear door of the Jeep Liberty.
In the past 10 years, led by new laser technology, Peugeot/Citroen used 6k W disk lasers
to weld seams on the doors and the C-pillar of
the Peugeot 3008 and 5008; Mercedes used disk
laser welding to join the doors and sidewalls of a
new E-Class; and Chrysler used diode lasers to
braze roofs to the side walls of its Chrysler 300C.
The fiber laser is also appearing on the automotive
assembly floors, welding the aluminum underbody
of the 2014 Corvette ( 30 years after the Ford failure), while Volkswagen uses the fiber laser seam
stepper to weld the VW Golf body.
So, where are we heading with this? Almost
all of the many hundreds of automotive laser
applications arose when a new body or platform
was being introduced—lasers are rarely chosen as a substitute for installed traditional welding. Volkswagen’s new engineering platform will
allow standardization of parts in as many as 29
plants by 2018. Toyota is also standardizing platforms, as the two automotive giants fight it out to
be Number One. Toyota’s laser screw welding,
first used on the 2013 Lexus IS, can seal three
welds in either steel or aluminum in less than
1 second compared with more than 2 seconds
the old way. To me, the timing looks right for what
may be the decade of photonics in automotive
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