No hable en Español—¡hable Catalan!

Aug. 1, 2002
Barcelona hosts LGAI's first international conference on lasers in the auto industry.
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An invitation to visit Barcelona to attend the 1st Congreso Internacional Laser was accepted with enthusiasm in anticipation of deep immersion into the Catalan culture. Plus the lure of Barcelona, a very pleasant city on Spain's Northwest coast, was too strong to pass up.

I have been there before, but only to pass through the airport on the way inland to visit carmakers and suppliers. So the opportunity to stay in the city was welcome. But wouldn't you know that the city's charm and mix of old and new architecture also attracts others, lots of others. Barcelona was awash with a sea of yellow jerseys that identified the wearer as a Rotarian attending that organization's international convention.

Instead, the much-anticipated exposure to the Catalan language was replaced, largely, by the flat, nasal twang of hundreds of Rotarians and their spouses. All complaining about the unusual heat and puzzling over the way-out architecture of Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926), which was being celebrated as a European culture event of the year.

Even the conference sponsors and organizers, the Center for Laser Application and Metallurgy (CLM) of the LGAI Technology Center (Bellaterra), chose to use Spanish and English as the conference languages, in deference to the international speakers and attendees.

What's such a big deal about Catalan? Many of us gained our knowledge of Catalan, of which Barcelona is the capital, from the 1992 Summer Olympics. The ABC television network exposed us to countless hours of "up close and personal" features on the city and the Catalan culture, including innumerable pictures of the Temple de la Sagrada Famila, Gaudi's cathedral, still being worked on today.

So this traveler was slightly disappointed that modern Barcelona comes across as another megalopolis.

Enough of this travelogue. The prime purpose of the visit was to attend a laser conference that was focused on the auto industry. Many of the leading companies have assembly plants throughout Spain. Lasers, the auto industry and the LGAI are so intertwined that the first annual LGAI Laser Innovation 2001 award was presented to SEAT-Martorell, a division of Volkswagen and Spain's leading car manufacturer.

VW has been rather secretive about the laser welding of the Ibiza at Martorell plant, so a presentation by Joseph Habla, vice president-production of SEAT-Martorell, and the award remarks shed more light on this application, which ILS reported in the April issue.

SEAT has two laser roof welding lines, built to comply with the command by VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech that all VW models would have the roof-to-body side joint reduced in width so that gasketing was eliminated. This was started on the new Polo model and now continues on that same platform all over Europe.

SEAT has been laser welding roofs since 1998 (Arosa) followed by the Leôn (1999) and the Toledo (2000). These three models simply substituted laser for resistance welding using an increasingly narrow weld seam. With the Ibiza and the new Côrdoba the weld gap has been closed to essentially zero, by designing the joint for laser welding. For the former models SEAT uses two 3-kW Nd:YAG lasers and two robots. For the new station it uses eight 4-kW Nd:YAG lasers, seven robots and 16 laser welding heads.

Other presentations at this conference dealt with other aspects of laser applications in auto, including tailored blank welding, hybrid welding, marking and plastic processing. All-in-all LGAI's first attempt at an international laser conference was a success, even though we didn't get the expected exposure to Catalonia.

About the Author

David Belforte | Contributing Editor

David Belforte (1932-2023) was an internationally recognized authority on industrial laser materials processing and had been actively involved in this technology for more than 50 years. His consulting business, Belforte Associates, served clients interested in advanced manufacturing applications. David held degrees in Chemistry and Production Technology from Northeastern University (Boston, MA). As a researcher, he conducted basic studies in material synthesis for high-temperature applications and held increasingly important positions with companies involved with high-technology materials processing. He co-founded a company that introduced several firsts in advanced welding technology and equipment. David's career in lasers started with the commercialization of the first industrial solid-state laser and a compact CO2 laser for sheet-metal cutting. For several years, he led the development of very high power CO2 lasers for welding and surface treating applications. In addition to consulting, David was the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Industrial Laser Solutions magazine (1986-2022) and contributed to other laser publications, including Laser Focus World. He retired from Laser Focus World in late June 2022.

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