By: Klaus Loeffler
TRUMPF Laser und Systemtechnik GmbH, Ditzingen, Germany
The automotive industry has been a target market for the laser soon after the invention of the laser in 1960. Mass production and flexibility have been the arguments for the laser. The first installations in 1973 all the way to late 1980 have been successful due to the missing industrial ready laser resonators. But the laser has seen a fast development over the years and with it the use of lasers in the automotive industry.
Today there is not one area that has no laser application. The decision to use a laser over an alternative manufacturing method is made by an economic decision. The need of reducing the weight of cars fuels the use of lasers. But, the development of new materials like boron steels offer new applications for lasers. On top of the technical need to use a laser, it also offers new possibilities in design that no other joining method could offer.
Almost all car companies have now adapted the laser in their production. Just over the last years the remote applications have made its way into the production plant. This method increases the utilization of the laser beam by a factor of 9. The laser has many positive effects like in maintenance. There is just one welding head that performs all welds compared to several tenth of welding guns with the traditional way. With all this in mind companies like Daimler, Audi and others have implemented the most productive laser remote welding systems into their production. This is a major global trend that helps to meet the global CO2 emission standards. Additionally there is a major trend in using light weight metals like aluminum replacing steel components. The laser plays again an important role in joining aluminum. The BMW Group is using lasers in such an application on all their cars successfully. The third main application is the use of lasers for brazing/soldering of class A surface components. This is now a standard application for many car companies like the Volkswagen Group, Ford, General Motors and even Chinese car manufacturers. Another large old and still growing and advancing application is welding powertrain components. With laser beams available with different wavelength there are major improvements recently implemented in production. Today, the overall automotive industry is laser power wise and is one of the largest laser users, with the new developments of fuel cells and batteries, they are the main future candidate for increasing the use of lasers.