Changes in designing for welding

As usual, laser marking suppliers had visibility at Eastec; did laser welding companies miss an opportunity.

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As usual, laser marking suppliers had visibility at Eastec; did laser welding companies miss an opportunity

At the recent regional trade show, Eastec, about four dozen companies exhibited laser products, half of which were those ILS considers as industrial. Among those we don’t track are companies supplying products for metrology. Surprisingly, the number of job shops featuring laser processing was very low, even though this show has been good for subcontractors in past years. Marking was the dominant industrial laser application, as it has been for several years, although this year the number of suppliers was down a bit, likely because of the current economic conditions which as of May had not shown signs of bottoming out yet.

The region Eastec focuses on is heavy with small to medium manufacturing companies that, for the most part, are supplying high technology markets, many of which have need for their products to be identified for traceability or security requirements; so one would expect marking laser systems to be a major factor at Eastec.

What was missing was a more balanced display of equipment for other industrial laser applications. Granted these are hard times and show participation has generally slipped quite a bit, but several suppliers at Eastec told us that they had been at other industrial shows already this year and that these were good venues for their products. So it is a matter of how Eastec is sold, I guess. It’s not a big machine tool show, and definitely not a fabricating show, so by default the laser marker suppliers have dominated.

But one could ask where the suppliers of laser welding equipment were. The Northeast has always been a good market for welding and remains so today. We acknowledge that precision manufacturing, and to a large degree companies supporting aerospace and energy industries, are a strong part of the region, none of these major markets for laser welding. However there are countless small industries assembling products that require positive fastening through welding. And ILS records show more than 800 subcontract companies, many of which offer laser welding services, in the nine states that comprise the Eastec marketing area.

I don’t have proof but I do know that this Northeast region has always been a good market for resistance welding equipment and although this has shrunk somewhat I can believe that these users are good candidates for today’s reliable, fairly priced laser welding equipment that offers users a better way to assemble a product.

And here we are back to the theme ILS started with this year—the education of end users to the advantages of laser welding. When first involved with marketing laser welding equipment, I operated on the theory that we knew about as much about laser welding as needed. Performance characteristics were inviolate; such as the inability to weld certain dissimilar pairs (copper to aluminum) or the disadvantages to welding certain metals (cast iron).

At this year’s Automotive Laser Applications Workshop, Stan Ream reported that the new generation of solid-state laser equipment with shorter wavelength and better beam quality welding, such as the disc and fiber, has demonstrated a unique capability to weld some of these “non-laser weldable” metals. The consequence is a realization that the applications window has opened to let lasers operate in new industrial areas heretofore not amenable to the process; copper to copper, nickel to aluminum, copper to aluminum, and copper to iron based alloys.

So with these changes and a renewed interest in laser welding it might change the landscape at next years Eastec so that laser welding will be a featured exhibitor.

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David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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