This is a summary of a paper by M. Mazar Atabaki, et al, entitled, “Pore formation and its mitigation during hybrid laser/arc welding of advanced high strength steel”M-66, referenced by permission.
Hybrid laser-arc welding (HLAW) is a popular welding process for thick sections. HLAW combines the high penetration depth and speed of laser welding with the volume and high deposition of gas metal arc welding (Figure 1).
Figure 1: HLAW Diagram.M-66
A common issue with this process is the formation of pores, which researchers from Southern Methodist University in Dallas addressed by optimizing various variables to reduce the presence of pores. HLAW was used to weld two coupons of Advanced High-Strength Steel (AHSS) with a carbon equivalent (CE) of 0.75 wt% (Figure 2). The pores appeared to be caused by two different sources. One type of pore appeared to form when the filling rate of the collapsing keyhole is slower than the solidification rate of the molten material. This left voids (pores) in the material. Other pores were caused by the trapping of shielding gas in the weld pool, a result of the fast solidification rate of laser welding.
Figure 2: Pores in weldment.M-66
To address the porosity, four variables were focused on:
- Increasing heat input in HLAW; creating a larger weld pool and slower solidification rates, giving more time for gases to escape from the weld pool.
- Optimization of the stand-off distance of the filler wire.
- Application of a side shielding gas.
- Use of a hot wire.
The researchers also found that the presence of certain alloying elements could affect the stability of the keyhole (alloys with a low boiling point). It was also important to find the optimum stand off distance for the wire. When the filler wire was too close, the arc got in the way of the laser and reduced power to the keyhole, causing instability. When a hot wire was used, the fusion zone microstructure consisted of martensite and bainite. Fracture testing showed brittle fracture surface with indications of gas entrapment, emphasizing the need to diffuse gases out of the molten weld pool.
The researchers found that the optimum stand-off distance between the laser and the arc was 8mm. At this distance, the molten weld pool was allowed to widen, which helped with degassing the liquid metal. When combined with a 92%Ar/8%CO side shielding gas, much of the porosity was alleviated. The use of a hot wire also improved the stability of the weld pool reducing some of the longitudinal porosity.
The word “laser” is an acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” Lasers produce a special form of light (electromagnetic energy) consisting of photons that are all of a single coherent wavelength. Light of this form can be focused to extremely small diameters allowing for the creation of the high-energy densities used for welding. The laser beam itself is not useful for welding until it is focused by a focusing lens.
Figure 1: Laser beam welding.
Lasers vary in the quality of the beam produced. A high-quality beam will diffract less when focused, providing for the creation of a smaller spot size. Reflective lenses are important to lasers as well since they are used in the optical cavity where the beam is generated, as well in the beam delivery systems for some lasers. For these reasons, optics play a major role in laser beam welding.
Laser beam welding (Figure 1) does not require additional filler metal and shielding gas is optional. When the beam hits the workpiece, it melts and vaporizes metal atoms, some of which are ionized by the intense beam. This creates what is known as a plume (or plasma) over the weld area that can sometimes interfere with the beam. In these cases, shielding gas may be used to deflect the plume.
The choice of laser type depends on cost, the type and thickness of material to be welded and the required speed and penetration. Lasers are distinguished by the medium used to generate the laser beam, and the wavelength of laser light produced. Although there are many types of lasers, the common lasers for welding include the Nd:YAG, fiber, disk solid-state lasers, and the gas-based CO2 laser. The lasing medium in solid-state lasers are crystals (Nd:YAG and disk lasers) or fibers (fiber laser) that have material added (doped) that will “lase” when exposed to a source of energy, whereas the lasing medium in the CO2 laser is a gas blend consisting of CO2, He, and N2 gas. In all cases, “lasing” occurs when the atoms/molecules of the medium are excited to a higher energy state through the introduction of additional energy (known as pumping). When this occurs, photons are emitted, which, in turn, excite other atoms/molecules. This results in a cascade of photons that travel in coherent waves of a single wavelength, the two properties for which laser light is known.
CO2 lasers produce wavelengths of 10.6 µm, while the wavelength of the solid-state lasers is 1.06 µm. CO2 lasers are generally less expensive, but the longer wavelength of light does not allow its beam to be delivered through fiber optic cables which reduces its versatility. Its light is also more reflective, which limits its use with highly reflective metals such as aluminium. The solid-state lasers are generally more compact and require less maintenance than the CO2 laser. They are more conducive to high-speed production since their beams can be delivered through long lengths of fiber optic cable which can then be attached to a robot. Some of the solid-state lasers such as the fiber laser produce beams of outstanding quality. However, the shorter wavelength of these lasers requires additional safety precautions regarding eye protection.
Figure 2: Focusing of the laser beam.
The choices of focus spot size, focus spot location in the joint, and focal length are all important considerations when laser beam welding. Usually, a small focus size is used for cutting and welding, while a larger focus is used for heat treatment or surface modification. As indicated in Figure 2, the location of the beam’s focal point can also be varied based on the application. When welding, it is common to locate the focal point somewhere near the center of the joint. But cutting applications benefit from placing the focal point at the bottom of the joint. Weld spatter onto the focusing lens can sometimes be a problem, especially when there are contaminants on the surface of the parts being welded. Approaches to minimizing the spatter problem include choosing a long focal length lens which keeps the lens a safe distance from the weld area, or the use of an air “knife” to protect the lens. A-11, P-6
In summary, the advantages and limitations of laser beam welding are as follows:
- High energy density process allows for low overall heat input which produces minimal BM degradation, residual stress, and distortion.
- Fast welding speeds.
- No filler metal required.
- Relatively thick (¾ in.) single-pass welds can be made.
- Concentrated heat source allows for the creation of extremely small weld sizes needed for small and intricate components.
- Easily automated, especially with lasers that are conducive to fiber optic delivery.
- Since there is no bulky torch as with most arc welding processes, laser beam welding is capable of welding joints with difficult accessibility.
- Equipment is very expensive
- Portability is usually low
- Requires very tight joint fit-up and accurate positioning of the joint relative to the beam
- Metals that are highly reflective such as Al are difficult to weld with some laser beam welding processes
- High weld CR may create brittle microstructures when welding certain steels
- Laser plume may be a problem
- Energy efficiency of lasers is poor
- Some lasers require special (and expensive) eye protection
- Laser beam welding is complex and requires significant training and knowledge
Fundamentals and Principles of High Energy Density Welding
High energy density welding processes are those that focus the energy needed for welding to an extremely small size area. This allows for very low overall heat input to the workpiece, which results in minimal BM degradation, residual stress, and distortion. Welding speeds can be very fast. The two main processes known for extreme energy densities are laser (Figure 1) and Electron Beam Welding (EBW).
Figure 1: Laser welding.
As shown in Figure 2, energy densities of focused laser and electron beams can approach and exceed 104 kw/cm2. These energy densities are achieved through a combination of high power and beams that are focused to an extremely small diameter. Diameters as small as a human hair (0.05 mm) are possible. PAW[KH1] offers greater energy density than conventional arc welding processes and is sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s laser”.
Figure 2: Power densities of various welding processes.
High energy density processes produce weld profiles of high depth-to-width ratio, as compared to other welding processes (Figure 3). As a result, much greater thicknesses can be welded in a single pass, especially with EBW. The figure also illustrates the fact that high energy density processes can produce a weld with minimal heating to the surrounding area as compared to the other processes. However, the high depth-to-width ratio weld profile is much less forgiving to imperfect joint fit-up than the profile produced by arc welding processes.
Figure 3: Comparison of typical weld profiles.
Laser and EBW processes are used in a wide variety of industry sectors. Very high weld speeds are possible and the welds are usually aesthetically pleasing. Laser welding is very adaptable to high-speed production so it is common in the automotive sector. The ability to precisely locate welds on smaller sensitive components with minimal heat input makes laser welding very attractive to the medical products industry.
When welding with high energy density processes, the laser or EB is focused along the joint line of the workpieces to be welded. The extreme power density of the beam not only melts the material, but causes evaporation. As the metal atoms evaporate, forces in the opposite direction create a significant localized vapor pressure. This pressure creates a hole, known as a keyhole, by depressing the free surface of the melted metal. The weld solidifies behind the keyhole as it progresses along the joint (Figure 4). This method of welding known as keyhole welding is the most common approach to laser and EB, and produces the characteristic welds of high depth-to-width ratio. There are some cases where the keyhole mode is not used. This mode is known as conductive mode welding. Conductive mode welds have a weld profile closer to that of an arc weld A-11, P-6
Figure 4: Keyhole mode welding.
Butt Welds and Tailor-Welded Products
Figure 1: Common automotive applications using laser welding.T-9
AHSS grades can be laser butt-welded and are used in production of tailored products (tailor-welded blanks and tubes). The requirements for edge preparation of AHSS are similar to mild steels. In both cases, a good quality edge and a good fit-up are critical to achieve good-quality welds. The blanking of AHSS needs higher shear loads than mild steel sheets. (see Culling in Blanking, Shearing and Trim Operations)
If a tailored product is intended for use in a forming operation, a general stretchability test such as the Erichsen (Olsen) cup test can be used for assessment of the formability of the laser weld. AHSS with tensile strengths up to 800 MPa show good Erichsen test values (Figure 2). The percent stretchability in the Erichsen test = 100 × the ratio of stretchability of weld to stretchability of BM.
Figure 2: Hardness and stretchability of laser butt welds with two AHSS sheets of the same thickness (Erichsen test values describe the stretchability.B-1)
The hardness of the laser welds for AHSS is higher than for mild steels (Figure 3). However, good stretchability ratios in the Erichsen test can be achieved when the difference in hardness between weld metal and BM is only slightly higher for AHSS compared to mild steels. If the hardness of the weld is too high, a post-annealing treatment (using HF-equipment or a second laser scan) may be used to reduce the hardness and improve the stretchability of the weld.
Figure 3: Improved stretchability of AHSS laser welds with an induction heating post-Heat treatment (Testing performed with Erichsen cup test.T-3)
Laser butt-welded AHSS of very high strength (for example Martensite steels) have higher strength than GMAW [LINK TO 3.2.1] welded joints. The reason is that the high CR in the laser welding process prompts the formation of hard martensite and the lower heat input reduces the soft zone of the HAZ.
Laser butt-welding is also used for welding tubes in roll-forming production lines as an alternative method for HF induction welding.
Assembly Laser Welding
Automotive applications use a variety of welding joint designs for laser welding in both lap joint and seam butt joint configurations as shown in Figure 4. Lap joints and seam butt joint configurations use different characteristics. Seam welds on butt joints need less power from the machine than lap joints due to the smaller weld fusion area, producing less distortion and a smaller HAZ. Butt joint configurations are more cost efficient. However, the fit up for seam welds can be more difficult to obtain than those of lap joints. Also, lap joints tend to provide a larger process window.
Figure 4: Common seam and joint types for laser welding of automotive applications.T-9
When seam welding butt joint configurations, a general guideline for fit-up requirements include a gap of 3-10% the thickness of the thinnest sheet being welding and an offset of 5-12% thickness of the thinnest sheet. A guideline for lap joints can require a gap of 5-10% the thickness of the top sheet being welded (Figure 5). These general guidelines are not absolute values due to the change of variables such as the focus spot size, the edge geometry for butt welds, strength requirements, etc.
Figure 5: Fit-up requirements for butt joint and lap joint configurations in laser welding.T-9
Laser welding is often used for AHSS overlap joints. This type of weld is either a conventional weld with approximately 50% penetration in the bottom sheet or an edge weld. Welding is performed in the same way as for mild steels, but the clamping forces needed for a good joint fit-up are often higher with AHSS than for mild steels. To achieve good laser-welded overlap joints for Zn-coated AHSS, a small intermittent gap (0.1-0.2 mm) between the sheets is recommended, which is identical to Zn-coated mild steels. In this way, the Zn does not get trapped in the melt, avoiding pores and other imperfections. An excessive gap can create an undesirable underfill on the topside of the weld. Some solutions for lap joint laser welding Zn- coated material are shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6: Laser welding of Zn-coated steels to tubular hydroformed parts.L-3
StudiesL-59 have shown welding Zn-coated steels can be done without using a gap between the overlapped sheets. This is accomplished using dual laser beams. While the first beam is used to heat and evaporate the Zn coating, the second beam performs the welding. The dual laser beam configuration combines two laser-focusing heads using custom-designed fixtures.
Remote Laser Welding
Remote scanner welding is used for many automotive applications, including seating (recliners, frames, tracks, and panels), BIW (trunks, rear panels, doors I hang on parts, side walls, and pillars) and interior (IP beams, rear shelfIhat rack) (Figure 7). Compared to conventional laser welding, remote scanner welding has several advantages. Those include a reduced cycle time (via reduction of index time), programmable weld shapes (ability to customize weld shape to optimize component strength), large stand-off (longer protection glass life), and reduced number of clamping fixtures (via reduced number of stations).
Remote laser welding, or “welding on the fly”, combines a robot and scanner optics to position the focused laser beam on the workpiece on the fly. The robot arm guides the scanner optics along a smooth path about half a meter over the workpiece. Extremely nimble scanning mirrors direct the focal point in fractions of a second from weld seam to weld seam. A fiber-delivered, solid-state laser is the source of the joining power far away from the processing station. The scanning optic or Programmable Focusing Optic (PFO) at the end of the laser’s fiber-optic cable is the central element for precise positioning of the laser’s focus point on the component to be welded. Inside the PFO, two scanner mirrors direct the beam through a “flat field” optic, which focuses the beam onto a common focus plane no matter where it is in the work envelope of the PFO. The PFO is also equipped with a motorized lens that allows the focus plane to be moved up and down in the Z-axis. The repositioning of the focused laser beam from one end of the entire work envelope to the other takes about 30 ms.T-9
Figure 7: Remote laser welding of automotive applications.T-9
There are three basic preconditions for welding on the fly. First, a solid-state laser is needed as the beam source. Solid-state lasers enable delivery of the laser beam through a highly flexible fiber optic cable, which is required when joining components in 3D space with a multi-axis robot. Second, a laser with excellent beam quality and the appropriate power is required. Beam quality is the measure of focus-ability of a laser, and the long focal lengths required for remote welding necessitate superior beam quality (i.e., 4 to 8 mm-mrad) to achieve the appropriate focused spot size (i.e., about 0.6 mm) at the workpiece. For remote welding in automotive body production, typically about 4 to 6 kW of laser power is used. The third essential precondition is precise positioning of the weld seams, which requires axis synchronization between the robot and the scanner control. This allows the weld shape programmed in the scanner control for a specific shape weld to have proper shape with the robot moving at various speeds over the part to be welded. Some control architectures use “time” synchronization. The problem here is that if the robot speed is changed for any reason, the weld shape will also change because the axes are not synchronized.T-9
Body-in-White (BIW) Joining
Laser-based solutions can offer a high- and cost-effective improvement potential for steel-based BIW joining. The laser joining design’s stiffness increases in direct relation to the laser weld length. Also, at low process time, there is up to a +14% torsional stiffness increase without any additional joining technique, shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Stiffness performances comparison for several joining designs.A-16
Laser weld shape optimization can help to homogenize performances and increasing the laser weld shape factor leads to a signification reduction of IF fracture risk (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Impact of laser weld design optimization on fracture type.A-16
DP 800 (with additional retained austenite and associated bainite) has the advantage of weight reduction and equally good properties when laser welding as the DP 800. The absolute strength of DP 800 is slightly higher, but the ductility for the DP 800 is greater, shown in Figure 9.
Figure 9: Absolute strength and ductility of DP 800 and DP 800.T-10
Figure 10 shows a cross-tension test in which both materials fail outside the weld zone, DP 800 failing entirely in the HAZ and DP 800 failing partly in the HAZ and partly in the BM.
Figure 10: Cross-tension testing of DP 800 and DP 800.T-10
Figure 11 is the microhardness profile of 1.6-mm Q&P 980’s laser weld joint. Microhardness of both welded seam and HAZ are all higher than BM, and there is no obvious softened zone in HAZ.
Figure 11: Microhardness profile of 1.6-mm Q&P 980’s laser weld joint.B-4
Figure 12 is Erichsen test result for the BM and weld seam of 1.6-mm Q&P 980, showing good stretchability.
Figure 12: Erichsen test result of 1.6-mm Q&P 980, laser welded.B-4
Hybrid Laser and GMAW Welding
In hybrid welding process parameters such as stick out and torch angle are very important to decide overall joint performance. A model has been developed to predict the penetration and toe length under similar heat input conditions, shown in Figure 13. The gap, stickout and angle shows synergic agreement with penetration and toe length but the interactions among them can show disagreement.
Figure 13: Effects of toe length and penetration.T-10
The weld joint strength increases with the increase in wire feed rate for a given laser power shown in Figure 14.
Figure 14: Wire feed rate versus tensile strength of hybrid laser and MIG welds.T-10
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