Lasers will shine in the auto industry

Troy, Mich. – Lasers are expected to play an important role in the manufacturing of high voltage batteries to be used in upcoming electrified automotive vehicles (HEV, PHEV, and EV). This was clearly evidenced by the “Battery Manufacturing & Joining Technology Symposium," organized by the Edison Welding Institute (EWI), in collaboration with American Welding Society (AWS), Center of Automotive Research (CAR), Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) - Detroit Section, and Ohio State University, held on September 8, 2010 in Troy, Michigan.

In a special keynote, Congressman Sander Levin, U.S. House of Representatives, Michigan, addressed the need of new energy sources and storage solutions, the recent increase in importance of the manufacturing sector, and the much debated roles of public and private sectors in the preservation of the U.S. auto industry.

The conference program was well designed to provide both learning as well as sharing experiences for participants. Presenters addressed a variety of topics, including fundamental principles, manufacturing considerations in high volume production, advanced inspection and measurement methods in manufacturing quality control, and specifics on state of the art in various joining processes, including laser welding of metals and plastics.

Over 130 representatives from automotive OEMs, suppliers, as well as research and academics institutions attended the conference and exposition, shared technical knowledge, discussed and provided recommendations towards the development of an industry-wide Roadmap of Manufacturing Challenges and Solutions.

The good news is that laser welding has been demonstrated for a variety of material combinations and as such is considered as one of the main joining processes suitable for battery manufacturing (together with ultrasonic and resistance welding). However, despite the well known merits of high speed and flexibility, laser joining is still considered by users to be a significant cost driver and to demand too much precision. Hence, an important challenge will be to seek solutions to increase process robustness to dimensional tolerances in order to reduce costs.

Although the automotive market might be only a small portion of the total battery market, the significant increase expected in the number of units to be produced in the HEV, PHEV, and EV categories will clearly generate future demands to introduce new laser applications. Since at present there isn't any one joining process dominating the manufacturing stage, lasers have a great opportunity to enter into battery manufacturing, this new class of automotive power train application, in the same way they did early on in transmission welding.

While the automotive OEMs are in a mature industry into which new battery products are to be integrated, the battery manufacturing area is a new field, rich with proprietary product developments. For this reason, standardization of battery products, although in principle desired by automotive OEMs, is not a readily accomplishable task, due to resistance of battery manufacturing technology providers and suppliers. Here again, lasers will have an opportunity to capitalize on their advantages in flexibility.

MORE GOOD NEWS – from the grapevine.

  • Remote scanner laser welding is becoming “the darling” for closure panel assembly welding at least at one auto OEM (possibly more).
  • Roof welding and brazing applications are proliferating, with all OEMs seeming active
  • Laser source RFQs were already put out by OEMs and major purchase orders are expected by suppliers.
  • Both fiber and disc high power (4-8 KW) lasers are being ordered by customers.
  • One major laser source supplier (unnamed) had the best year ever (as of June 2010)

This in-person account is by ILS Editorial Advisor Dr. Mariana Forrest, LASAP Inc.,


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