Laser welding is a highly precise joining process that uses a concentrated beam of light energy to melt and fuse materials together. Compared to traditional welding methods, laser welding is faster, more precise, creates less material distortion, and allows more flexibility for automation and process control.
This guide provides an in-depth overview of laser welding technology, including how it works, types of machines, applications, advantages, and considerations. Read on to learn why laser welding may be the best process for your manufacturing needs.
How does laser welding work?
Laser welding directs an intense beam of monochromatic, coherent light at the joint between two materials. As the laser beam strikes the surface, the energy gets absorbed and converted to heat, swiftly melting and fusing the materials.
The laser beam is focused through optics to a tiny spot size, allowing it to produce narrow, deep welds between 0.015 and 0.060 inches. The high energy density enables laser welding to operate in either conduction mode (slower heating for thicker materials) or keyhole mode (faster vaporization welding).
Types of Laser Welding Machines
There are two main types of laser welding machines defined by the duration of light exposure:
Pulsed Laser Welders
Pulsed laser welders deliver light energy in millisecond bursts. This intermittent exposure allows very precise control for welding delicate or thin materials.
Pulsed beam operation is ideal for:
- Medical devices
- Thin section metals
Continuous Wave Laser Welders
Continuous-wave (CW) laser welders emit an uninterrupted beam for as long as the laser is activated. CW delivers more overall energy and is capable of sustained penetration welding of thicker, stronger metals.
CW laser welders work well for:
- Automotive manufacturing
- Heavy machinery
- Aerospace applications
- Thick section metals
Fiber lasers and CO2 lasers are the most common laser sources used in metal welding.
Key Laser Welding Applications
Thanks to laser welding’s precision, speed, quality, and flexibility, it serves numerous industrial applications:
Laser welding helps automakers build lighter, safer, and higher-performance vehicles. It joins key components like tailor-welded blanks, door assemblies, battery packs, drivetrains, and wiring harnesses.
Aerospace manufacturers leverage laser welding’s deep, narrow welds to join specialty alloys and components while minimizing heat input and distortion. Lasers also enable on-site repairs.
Laser welding creates strong, clean bonds for pacemakers, imaging devices, orthopedic implants, and other medical equipment. It provides exceptional precision on delicate parts with no toxic fumes.
Laser welding permanently joins electrical components and printed circuit boards without damaging sensitive materials. It prevents post-assembly short circuits or failures.
Advantages of Laser Welding
Compared to traditional welding techniques like MIG, TIG, and spot welding, laser welding provides these benefits:
- Laser welding is significantly faster, delivering welds up to 10 times quicker than MIG welding. The rapid process improves production rates.
Quality and Consistency
- The highly concentrated heat source makes laser welding very controllable for exceptional weld quality. Automating the process also enhances consistency and repeatability.
Low Heat Input and Distortion
- Laser welding minimizes heat input, decreasing part warpage, weakness, or changes to the metallurgical structure. This helps maintain material properties.
- The laser’s intense beam can access confined spaces, weld complex joints, or be positioned in any orientation for greater design freedom.
- Laser welding works seamlessly with automated systems and robotics for improved quality, productivity, and cost-efficiency.
Considerations for Laser Welding
While offering significant advantages, laser welding has some unique considerations:
- Laser welding requires extensive precautions to avoid eye and skin damage from the intense light energy. Proper eye protection, skin coverage, and system safeguards are essential.
- Laser welding systems have a steep initial investment, often higher than conventional welding equipment. However, increased productivity can provide a rapid return on investment.
Process Control Needs
- Multiple parameters must be precisely set and controlled to produce a sound laser weld. Environmental cleanliness, material fit-up, beam alignment, and more impact success.
Operator Skill Level
- Due to process intricacies, laser welding benefits greatly from an experienced, skilled operator to ensure optimal weld quality and output. Extensive training is recommended.
Getting Started with Laser Welding
Follow these tips when exploring or implementing laser welding:
Research Extensively First
Fully research all process requirements, safety protocols, equipment types, and best practices before purchasing any laser welding system. Understand how joint designs, fit-up, material properties, and more affect your application.
Define Operating Procedures
Document detailed procedures surrounding laser welding process controls, parameters, maintenance, and environmental standards. Focus on precision, cleanliness, and optics care for quality welds.
Work with an automation partner to engineer an automated laser work cell tailored to your parts. This can significantly improve weld consistency while reducing labor.
Account for laser welding’s higher upfront equipment costs while factoring in long-term productivity and quality gains. Calculate the potential return on investment.
Reaching out to a laser welding expert can help assess if this technology is a good fit for your manufacturing needs. As laser welding continues to advance, more industrial applications can leverage its speed, flexibility, and quality advantages.