Europe's first laser-welded CCB is a fact

Dec. 3, 2012
AWL and Kirchhoff Automotive have devised a laser welding system for cross car beams with a unique high degree of 3D flexibility.

Harderwijk, Netherlands - By developing Europe's first laser-welded cross car beam (CCB), AWL-Techniek again lives up to its motto: "we keep you ahead in automated welding." On the instructions of Kirchhoff Automotive, AWL will be building a production line comprising, among other things, two laser welding machines that will guarantee a production of 220,000 CCBs per year.

In terms of safety and ergonomics, the dashboard is the most important interface between a car and its driver. This part unites the construction elements and individual systems. One important aspect is the frame on which most elements are mounted: the dashboard instrument panel support, or cross car beam (CCB).

Although the Americans have been laser-welding this CCB for many years now, it is rather unique for Europe. So as to supply both America and Europe with laser-welded CCBs, Kirchhoff instructed AWL in 2011 to develop and realize a laser welding machine. Kirchhoff Automotive is one of the most prominent suppliers of metal structures in the automotive industry. This traditional but highly innovative family-run business has been operating for 225 years and can look back on an interesting and impressive history.

During the past year, AWL assisted in five different concept choices. Close collaboration with Kirchhoff led to the most suitable concept in terms of investment, cycle time, logistics, and process reliability. The ultimate choice was a concept that considerably differed from the existing production concept in Hermosillo, Mexico.

The project comprises four machines. The first machine is the projection welding portal, which welds nuts on the single parts by means of resistance pressure welding fully automatically. The product then moves on to two laser welding cells. During the laser welding process, the welding quality is monitored by means of 4D technology. This information is logged in the PLC by means of a unique QR scan code on the part. This immediately identifies any errors, after which the product is removed from the process and repaired in the final processing unit. Finally, the push-nut assembly machine automatically mounts the push-nut.

During the laser welding process, the AWL Beam Switch system is used, with two robots sharing a single welding source. Welding takes place with fixed optics on the robot. The application of this AWL laser welding development in particular is the key to success in this project. The system has a high degree of 3D flexibility, which is needed for welding a CCB. This is unique in the world and differs from the selected configuration used for the production of similar CCBs for the American market.

The machine will be ready early next year, enabling Kirchhoff to start production. The laser process has several advantages for production. The efficiency with which logistics are arranged and process stability reduce the chances of welding errors. In addition, a high output is realized on a relatively small surface area.

Laser welding technology has made considerable progress during the past few years. An increasing number of businesses now recognize the advantages of this technology. As the market leader of laser welding in the seating market, AWL aims to use its knowledge and experience in other automotive segments, such as body and interior. Realizing the laser welding machine for a CCB is an excellent example of that ambition.

For further information about AWL, please contact Alexander Mulder, project manager, [email protected].

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