All wrapped in a neat little package

May 1, 2002
For remote laser welding, compactness is a big factor in system flexibility

For remote laser welding, compactness is a big factor in system flexibility

When I travel, all the survival accessories needed accompany me. The current travel kit has more miles on it than the average traveler accumulates in a lifetime of travel. It's a small kit, only 12 X 5 X 4 inches, but it holds enough to sustain a five-week swing that I made through the South Pacific a few years ago.

Thanks to the availability of sample-size containers of personal products, this little bag holds everything needed to travel anywhere, anytime. Of course hotels today help out by providing some necessities if you should run out. And as my wife is wont to say, "There are always shops."

It's amazing and sometimes frustrating trying to find some article that seems to get lost in the kit's small volume. This typically happens when hands are wet or glasses are off. And, because it's usually early morning, hand/eye coordination and temperament are not usually 100 percent.

This is being written just after the close of the ALAW event, where presentations on flexible laser processing, accomplished by robot-manipulated beam scanning devices delivering high laser power to workpieces, stimulated the audience.

There are currently several schools of thought on the best way to accomplish remote welding: conventional high-speed Cartesian motion with fixed and/or moving optics or lasers, conventional free-arm robots with fiber delivery to fixed and/or moving optics, distributed energy concepts with high-speed beam switching to multipoint beam focus optics or remote lasers with scanning mirror beam delivery and workpiece motion. In addition, there are robot-manipulated, end effector-mounted scanning optics for high-power Nd:YAG beam delivery.

From a user perspective, the latter is close to ideal, lacking only an arm-mounted laser to complete the most flexible integration package that many in the industry have requested.

What turns this writer on is the compactness of many of these moving beam packages. Peter Rippl (Kuka-Augsburg, Germany), a laser/robot zealot of the first order, can lay claim to the earliest laser/robot clamping system used on-line for auto roof welding. Currently Kuka offers end-of-robot packages that contain sensors, beam focus optics, wire feed, seam tracking and assist gas delivery. All in a relatively small package rather like my travel kit. Bjorn Wedel at HighYAG (Stahnsdorf, Germany) is another supplier who produces multipurpose, compact, end-of-arm beam processing devices.

A video shown at ALAW projected a view of a unit with components that were hard to see until the speaker highlighted them with arrows. Such was the compactness of these products.

In a survey of industry perceptions conducted several years ago, the U.S. auto industry equated compactness with cheapness. A leftover impression stemming from the early days of the Big Three's efforts to compete against imported autos. Make them cheap—not good, just cheap.

Today compactness is a big factor in system flexibility. Frank DiPietro, who organizes the ALAW, was on target when he developed the theme for this year's event—the problem, flexibility; the solution, the laser.

The time seems ripe for remote laser welding in the auto stamping shop. Framing operations, such as door assembly, are the subject of review for production flexibility, driven by successes at Volkswagen, who is the leader in implementing this technology.

Think of a package like the travel kit, hung on the end of an industrial robot, providing stitch welds at speeds twice as fast as standard laser/robot welding. Now we are talking about the close-to-perfect use of controlled, flexible, high-energy processing technology.

David A. Belforte
[email protected]

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