Mobile, AL—This summer, Bender Shipbuilding & Repair Co. Inc. became the first U.S. shipyard to successfully laser weld a structural steel panel on the shipyard's production equipment. Visotek Inc. (Plymouth, MI) and Alabama Laser (Munford, AL), together with Bender, developed, built, installed, and tested a laser welding system using partial funding from the National Shipbuilding Research Program and an SBIR grant funded through the Office of Naval Research.
Test panels 2 ft. × 2 ft. with five closely spaced stiffeners were laser cut from 1/8 in. plate. The stiffeners were installed between two plates to create a sandwich type panel, and the welding was done from the outside, on both sides. These panels utilize Bender's unique tab and slot joining concept to fit the stiffeners and lock them into place. The laser welds were done using a scanning optic developed by Visotek, which was integrated onto Bender's 6kW Tanaka laser by Alabama Laser.
Additional development work will continue to resolve various issues identified during these first trials, and will result in full production capability of large panels.