Laser Welding Processes and Applications
- Butt Welds and Tailor-Welded Products
- Assembly Laser Welding
- Remote Laser Welding
- Body-in-White (BIW) Joining
- Hybrid Laser and GMAW Welding
Butt Welds and Tailor-Welded Products
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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 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 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 12 is Erichsen test result for the BM and weld seam of 1.6-mm Q&P 980, showing good stretchability.
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.
The weld joint strength increases with the increase in wire feed rate for a given laser power shown in Figure 14.